Emergent properties in the responses of tropical corals to recurrent climate extremes

Hughes, Terry P., Kerry, James T., Connolly, Sean R., Alvarez-Romero, Jorge G., Eakin, C. Mark, Heron, Scott F., Gonzalez, Migdonio A., and Moneghetti, Joanne (2021) Emergent properties in the responses of tropical corals to recurrent climate extremes. Current Biology, 31 (23). pp. 5393-5399.

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The frequency, intensity, and spatial scale of climate extremes are changing rapidly due to anthropogenic global warming.1,2 A growing research challenge is to understand how multiple climate-driven disturbances interact with each other over multi-decadal time frames, generating combined effects that cannot be predicted from single events alone.3, 4, 5 Here we examine the emergent dynamics of five coral bleaching events along the 2,300 km length of the Great Barrier Reef that affected >98% of the Reef between 1998 and 2020. We show that the bleaching responses of corals to a given level of heat exposure differed in each event and were strongly influenced by contingency and the spatial overlap and strength of interactions between events. Naive regions that escaped bleaching for a decade or longer were the most susceptible to bouts of heat exposure. Conversely, when pairs of successive bleaching episodes were close together (1–3 years apart), the thermal threshold for severe bleaching increased because the earlier event hardened regions of the Great Barrier Reef to further impacts. In the near future, the biological responses to recurrent bleaching events may become stronger as the cumulative geographic footprint expands further, potentially impairing the stock-recruitment relationships among lightly and severely bleached reefs with diverse recent histories. Understanding the emergent properties and collective dynamics of recurrent disturbances will be critical for predicting spatial refuges and cumulative ecological responses, and for managing the longer-term impacts of anthropogenic climate change on ecosystems.

Item ID: 69895
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1879-0445
Keywords: coral reefs; climate change; coral bleaching; ecological memory; thermal thresholds; disturbance regimes; spatial refuges; spatial heterogeneity; degree heating weeks; climate models
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Copyright Information: © 2021 Elsevier Inc
Funders: ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, Prince Albert Foundation, US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Projects and Grants: ARC CE140100020
Research Data: https://doi.org/10.17632/tncdys47mh.1
Date Deposited: 08 Nov 2021 02:02
FoR Codes: 31 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 3103 Ecology > 310305 Marine and estuarine ecology (incl. marine ichthyology) @ 30%
41 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 4101 Climate change impacts and adaptation > 410102 Ecological impacts of climate change and ecological adaptation @ 50%
46 INFORMATION AND COMPUTING SCIENCES > 4601 Applied computing > 460106 Spatial data and applications @ 20%
SEO Codes: 18 ENVIRONMENTAL MANAGEMENT > 1805 Marine systems and management > 180504 Marine biodiversity @ 25%
18 ENVIRONMENTAL MANAGEMENT > 1805 Marine systems and management > 180506 Oceanic processes (excl. in the Antarctic and Southern Ocean) @ 25%
19 ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY, CLIMATE CHANGE AND NATURAL HAZARDS > 1901 Adaptation to climate change > 190102 Ecosystem adaptation to climate change @ 50%
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