Coral Reefs

, Volume 34, Issue 2, pp 471–478 | Cite as

Latitudinal variation in thermal tolerance thresholds of early life stages of corals

  • E. S. Woolsey
  • S. A. Keith
  • M. Byrne
  • S. Schmidt-Roach
  • A. H. Baird


Organisms living in habitats characterized by a marked seasonal temperature variation often have a greater thermal tolerance than those living in more stable habitats. To determine the extent to which this hypothesis applies to reef corals, we compared thermal tolerance of the early life stages of five scleractinian species from three locations spanning 17° of latitude along the east coast of Australia. Embryos were exposed to an 8 °C temperature range around the local ambient temperature at the time of spawning. Upper thermal thresholds, defined as the temperature treatment at which the proportion of abnormal embryos or median life span was significantly different to ambient controls, varied predictably among locations. At Lizard Island, the northern-most site with the least annual variation in temperature, the proportion of abnormal embryos increased and life span decreased 2 °C above ambient in the two species tested. At two southern sites, One Tree Island and Lord Howe Island, where annual temperature variation was greater, upper temperature thresholds were generally 4 °C or greater above ambient for both variables in the four species tested. The absolute upper thermal threshold temperature also varied among locations: 30 °C at Lizard Island; 28 °C at One Tree Island; 26 °C at Lord Howe Island. These results support previous work on adult corals demonstrating predictable differences in upper thermal thresholds with latitude. With projected ocean warming, these temperature thresholds will be exceeded in northern locations in the near future, adding to a growing body of evidence indicating that climate change is likely to be more detrimental to low latitude than high latitude corals .


Coral reefs Larval ecology Biogeography Dispersal 



We thank A. Schmidt-Roach, J. Figueiredo, S. Bainbridge, K. Nash, C–H. Tan, K. Miller, M. Chua, G. Miller, E. Howells, and staff of Lizard Island, Orpheus Island, One Tree Island, and Lord Howe Island Research Stations. This project was funded by ARC Grants to AHB.

Supplementary material

338_2014_1253_MOESM1_ESM.docx (61 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 60 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • E. S. Woolsey
    • 1
  • S. A. Keith
    • 1
    • 2
  • M. Byrne
    • 3
  • S. Schmidt-Roach
    • 4
  • A. H. Baird
    • 1
  1. 1.ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef StudiesJames Cook UniversityTownsvilleAustralia
  2. 2.Center for Macroecology, Evolution and ClimateUniversity of CopenhagenCopenhagenDenmark
  3. 3.Schools of Medical and Biological SciencesUniversity of SydneySydneyAustralia
  4. 4.Institute for Marine and Antarctic StudiesUniversity of TasmaniaHobartAustralia

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