Climate warming erodes tropical reef habitat through frequency and intensity of episodic hypoxia

Noelle M. Lucey, Curtis A. Deutsch, Marie-Hélène Carignan, Fanny Vermandele, Mary Collins, Maggie D. Johnson, Rachel Collin, Piero Calosi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Climate warming threatens marine life by increasing metabolic oxygen demand while decreasing oxygen availability. Tropical species living in warm, low oxygen environments may be most at risk, but their tolerances and exposures to these stressors remain poorly documented. We evaluated habitat restrictions for two brittle star species from Caribbean coral reefs by integrating field observations, laboratory experiments and an ecophysiological model. The absence of one species from the warmest reefs results from vital activity restrictions during episodic low oxygen extremes, even though average conditions are well within physiological tolerance limits. Over the past decade, warmer temperatures have been significantly correlated with a greater frequency and intensity of hypoxic events. Continued warming will progressively exclude hypoxia-tolerant species, even if average oxygen remains constant. A warming-driven increase in frequency or intensity of low oxygen extremes could similarly accelerate habitat loss across other marine ecosystems.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)e0000095
JournalPLOS Climate
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2023
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

KAUST Repository Item: Exported on 2023-03-06
Acknowledgements: NL was supported by a fellowship awarded by Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) and funding from M&J Bytnar. NL and RC were supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation (BIO-OCE 2048955) during manuscript preparation. A Smithsonian Institution Competitive Grant supported RC, and the Smithsonian Women’s Committee award #53, STRI and the Smithsonian Marine Global Earth Observatory supported MDJ. The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Discovery Program grant RGPIN-2015-06500 and RGPIN-2020-05627 and Canada Foundation for Innovation grant was awarded to PC, and supported PC, MHC and FV, as well as some of the research costs. The Quebec Center for Biodiversity Science Excellence Award supported MHC. FV was supported by the mobility grant from the University of Quebec in Rimouski foundation (FUQAR). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. We thank STRI Bocas Research Station staff, STRI Monitoring Program, MarineGeo (#78), as well as K Birkenmayer, L Beckman, and A Herwig for experimental assistance. We also thank Y Kai and Madeleine-Zoé Corbeil-Robitaille for providing graphical artwork, and the Panamanian government for permission to conduct this research in Bocas del Toro, Panama.


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