Differential thermal tolerance between algae and corals may trigger the proliferation of algae in coral reefs.

Andrea Anton Gamazo, Janna L Randle, Francisca C Garcia, Susann Rossbach, Joanne I Ellis, Michael Weinzierl, Carlos M. Duarte

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Marine heatwaves can lead to rapid changes in entire communities, including in the case of shallow coral reefs the potential overgrowth of algae. Here we tested experimentally the differential thermal tolerance between algae and coral species from the Red Sea through the measurement of thermal performance curves and the assessment of thermal limits. Differences across functional groups (algae vs corals) were apparent for two key thermal performance metrics. First, two reef-associated algae species (Halimeda tuna and Turbinaria ornata,) had higher lethal thermal limits than two coral species (Pocillopora verrucosa and Stylophora pistillata) conferring those species of algae with a clear advantage during heatwaves by surpassing the thermal threshold of coral survival. Second, the coral species had generally greater deactivation energies for net and gross primary production rates compared to the algae species, indicating greater thermal sensitivity in corals once the optimum temperature is exceeded. Our field surveys in the Red Sea reefs before and after the marine heatwave of 2015 show a change in benthic cover mainly in the southern reefs, where there was a decrease in coral cover and a concomitant increase in algae abundance, mainly turf algae. Our laboratory and field observations indicate that a proliferation of algae might be expected on Red Sea coral reefs with future ocean warming.
Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalGlobal change biology
StatePublished - May 5 2020

Bibliographical note

KAUST Repository Item: Exported on 2020-10-01
Acknowledgements: This research was funded by King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) through baseline funding and center associated research and competitive funding allocated to CMD. We thank Paul Muller, Zenon Batang, Katherine Rowe, CMOR, Cecilia Martin and Lauren Shea for logistical support in the laboratory, Nathan Geraldi for providing useful feedback on earlier versions of the manuscript, Lucas Geraldi-Anton for the illustrations in the graphical abstract and Allende Bodega Martinez for the species illustrations in Fig. 1.


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