Changes in bleaching susceptibility among corals subject to ocean warming and recurrent bleaching in Moorea, French Polynesia

Pratchett, Morgan S., McCowan, Dominique, Maynard, Jeffrey A., and Heron, Scott (2013) Changes in bleaching susceptibility among corals subject to ocean warming and recurrent bleaching in Moorea, French Polynesia. PLoS ONE, 8 (7). pp. 1-10.

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Abstract

Background: Climate-induced coral bleaching poses a major threat to coral reef ecosystems, mostly because of the sensitivities of key habitat-forming corals to increasing temperature. However, susceptibility to bleaching varies greatly among coral genera and there are likely to be major changes in the relative abundance of different corals, even if the wholesale loss of corals does not occur for several decades. Here we document variation in bleaching susceptibility among key genera of reef-building corals in Moorea, French Polynesia, and compare bleaching incidence during mass-bleaching events documented in 1991, 1994, 2002 and 2007.

Methodology/Principal Findings: This study compared the proportion of colonies that bleached for four major genera of reef-building corals (Acropora, Montipora, Pocillopora and Porites), during each of four well-documented bleaching events from 1991 to 2007. Acropora and Montipora consistently bleached in far greater proportions (up to 98%) than Pocillopora and Porites. However, there was an apparent and sustained decline in the proportion of colonies that bleached during successive bleaching events, especially for Acropora and Montipora. In 2007, only 77% of Acropora colonies bleached compared with 98% in 1991. Temporal variation in the proportion of coral colonies bleached may be attributable to differences in environmental conditions among years. Alternately, the sustained declines in bleaching incidence among highly susceptible corals may be indicative of acclimation or adaptation.

Conclusions/Significance: Coral genera that are highly susceptible to coral bleaching, and especially Acropora and Montipora, exhibit temporal declines in their susceptibility to thermal anomalies at Moorea, French Polynesia. One possible explanation for these findings is that gradual removal of highly susceptible genotypes (through selective mortality of individuals, populations, and/or species) is producing a coral assemblage that is more resistant to sustained and ongoing ocean warming.

Item ID: 28862
Item Type: Article (Refereed Research - C1)
Additional Information:

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

ISSN: 1932-6203
Funders: Australian Research Council (ARC)
Date Deposited: 26 Aug 2013 04:16
FoR Codes: 06 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 0602 Ecology > 060205 Marine and Estuarine Ecology (incl Marine Ichthyology) @ 50%
05 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 0501 Ecological Applications > 050101 Ecological Impacts of Climate Change @ 50%
SEO Codes: 97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970106 Expanding Knowledge in the Biological Sciences @ 50%
96 ENVIRONMENT > 9603 Climate and Climate Change > 960309 Effects of Climate Change and Variability on the South Pacific (excl. Australia and New Zealand) (excl. Social Impacts) @ 50%
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