Vulnerability of global coral reef habitat suitability to ocean warming, acidification and eutrophication

Coral reefs are threatened by global and local stressors. Yet, reefs appear to respond differently to different environmental stressors. Using a global dataset of coral reef occurrence as a proxy for the long‐term adaptation of corals to environmental conditions in combination with global environmental data, we show here how global (warming: sea surface temperature; acidification: aragonite saturation state, Ωarag) and local (eutrophication: nitrate concentration, and phosphate concentration) stressors influence coral reef habitat suitability. We analyse the relative distance of coral communities to their regional environmental optima. In addition, we calculate the expected change of coral reef habitat suitability across the tropics in relation to an increase of 0.1°C in temperature, an increase of 0.02 μmol/L in nitrate, an increase of 0.01 μmol/L in phosphate and a decrease of 0.04 in Ωarag. Our findings reveal that only 6% of the reefs worldwide will be unaffected by local and global stressors and can thus act as temporary refugia. Local stressors, driven by nutrient increase, will affect 22% of the reefs worldwide, whereas global stressors will affect 11% of these reefs. The remaining 61% of the reefs will be simultaneously affected by local and global stressors. Appropriate wastewater treatments can mitigate local eutrophication and could increase areas of temporary refugia to 28%, allowing us to ‘buy time’, while international agreements are found to abate global stressors.

Guan Y., Hohn S., Wild C. & Merico A., in press. Vulnerability of global coral reef habitat suitability to ocean warming, acidification and eutrophication. Global Change Biology. Article.

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