Response of coral assemblages to thermal stress: are bleaching intensity and spatial patterns consistent between events?
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Mass bleaching events resulting in coral mortality are among the greatest threats to coral reefs, and are projected to increase in frequency and intensity with global warming. Achieving a better understanding of the consistency of the response of coral assemblages to thermal stress, both spatially and temporally, is essential to determine which reefs are more able to tolerate climate change. We compared variations in spatial and taxonomic patterns between two bleaching events at the scale of an island (Moorea Island, French Polynesia). Despite similar thermal stress and light conditions, bleaching intensity was significantly lower in 2007 (approximately 37 % of colonies showed signs of bleaching) than in 2002, when 55 % of the colonies bleached. Variations in the spatial patterns of bleaching intensity were consistent between the two events. Among nine sampling stations at three locations and three depths, the stations at which the bleaching response was lowest in 2002 were those that showed the lowest levels of bleaching in 2007. The taxonomic patterns of susceptibility to bleaching were also consistent between the two events. These findings have important implications for conservation because they indicate that corals are capable of acclimatization and/or adaptation and that, even at small spatial scales, some areas are consistently more susceptible to bleaching than others.
KeywordsCoral bleaching Climate change Disturbances Spatial patterns Moorea French Polynesia
We thank the logistic support from CRIOBE station (Centre de Recherches Insulaires et Observatoire de l’Environnement-USR CNRS-EPHE 3278, Moorea), Pascal Ung, Yannick Chancerelle, Franck Lerouvreur and many students for diving assistance, and Rebecca Weeks for proofreading. Insolation data were obtained from the NASA Langley Research Center POWER Project.
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