Increasing Coral Reef Resilience Through Successive Marine Heatwaves

Michael D. Fox*, Anne L. Cohen*, Randi D. Rotjan, Sangeeta Mangubhai, Stuart A. Sandin, Jennifer E. Smith, Simon R. Thorrold, Laura Dissly, Nathan R. Mollica, David Obura

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations

Abstract

Ocean warming is causing declines of coral reefs globally, raising critical questions about the potential for corals to adapt. In the central equatorial Pacific, reefs persisting through recurrent El Niño heatwaves hold important clues. Using an 18-year record of coral cover spanning three major bleaching events, we show that the impact of thermal stress on coral mortality within the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA) has lessened over time. Disproportionate survival of extreme thermal stress during the 2009–2010 and 2015–2016 heatwaves, relative to that in 2002–2003, suggests that selective mortality through successive heatwaves may help shape coral community responses to future warming. Identifying and facilitating the conditions under which coral survival and recovery can keep pace with rates of warming are essential first steps toward successful stewardship of coral reefs under 21st century climate change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2021GL094128
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Volume48
Issue number17
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 16 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We are grateful to the Republic of Kiribati and the Phoenix Islands Protected Area Conservation Trust for making PIPA accessible for scientific study and for assistance with permitting and logistics, and to our Kiribati colleagues Tukabu Teroroko, Tuake Teema and Aranteiti Tekiau for their valuable insights and knowledge of the ocean and PIPA's reefs. Thank you to Ron Ritter of Pangaea Exploration, Eric and Shanley Loss and the Sea Dragon crew, as well as the captains and crew of the Nai'a and Hanse Explorer, who provided invaluable support on our expeditions into the remote Pacific. A special thank you to Andreiko, Hannah Barkley, Richard Brooks, Craig Cook, Elizabeth Drenkard, Alan Dynner, Pat Lohmann, Kathryn Pietro, Mark Priest, Hanny Rivera, Greg Stone, Jim Stringer, Chip Young, and Brian Zgliczynski. This paper is dedicated to the memory of Mr. Jay Andrew of Palau who assisted with our 2012 expedition. Support was provided by the US National Science Foundation (NSF) 1737311 to A. L. Cohen; The Atlantic Donor Advised Fund to A. L. Cohen; a Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution post‐doctoral scholarship to M. D. Fox; the Robertson Foundation, The Prince Albert Foundation, the New England Aquarium, and the Akiko Shiraki Dynner Fund.

Funding Information:
We are grateful to the Republic of Kiribati and the Phoenix Islands Protected Area Conservation Trust for making PIPA accessible for scientific study and for assistance with permitting and logistics, and to our Kiribati colleagues Tukabu Teroroko, Tuake Teema and Aranteiti Tekiau for their valuable insights and knowledge of the ocean and PIPA's reefs. Thank you to Ron Ritter of Pangaea Exploration, Eric and Shanley Loss and the Sea Dragon crew, as well as the captains and crew of the Nai'a and Hanse Explorer, who provided invaluable support on our expeditions into the remote Pacific. A special thank you to Andreiko, Hannah Barkley, Richard Brooks, Craig Cook, Elizabeth Drenkard, Alan Dynner, Pat Lohmann, Kathryn Pietro, Mark Priest, Hanny Rivera, Greg Stone, Jim Stringer, Chip Young, and Brian Zgliczynski. This paper is dedicated to the memory of Mr. Jay Andrew of Palau who assisted with our 2012 expedition. Support was provided by the US National Science Foundation (NSF) 1737311 to A. L. Cohen; The Atlantic Donor Advised Fund to A. L. Cohen; a Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution post-doctoral scholarship to M. D. Fox; the Robertson Foundation, The Prince Albert Foundation, the New England Aquarium, and the Akiko Shiraki Dynner Fund.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021. American Geophysical Union. All Rights Reserved.

Keywords

  • adaptation
  • central Pacific
  • coral reefs
  • ENSO
  • oceanography
  • thermal stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences

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