Synergistic Impacts of Global Warming on the Resilience of Coral Reefs

There have been few investigations on the effects of climate change on coral reef resilience. This study focuses on how a single climate driver, sea surface temperature (SST), can both chronically (growth rate) and acutely (bleaching) affect coral reefs. A spatially explicit model was used to simulate the effects of both chronic and acute thermal stress when acting together and separately. As expected, when thermal stress does not affect reefs, coral cover increases over time. Acute thermal disturbances were found to considerably reduce coral cover and reduce reef resilience. Chronic thermal disturbances lowered resilience, but at a much smaller magnitude than those that were acute. When acting together, acute and chronic stressors act in synergism to reduce resilience. In moving forward in a changing climate, the authors argue that it is imperative to consider synergism among stressors when thinking about the future impact of climate change on reef resilience. Additionally, since reef state, or percent coral cover, and reef resilience are largely unrelated, management efforts should not be solely focused on coral cover as resilience episodes may go unnoticed. It is reef resilience that will ultimately help to identify and hopefully repair ecosystem dysfunction before any stress or damage inflicted becomes permanent.

Author: Bozec, Y-M. and P.J. Mumby
Year: 2015
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Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 370: 20130267

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