Coral Reefs

, Volume 29, Issue 3, pp 749–758 | Cite as

Coral growth with thermal stress and ocean acidification: lessons from the eastern tropical Pacific

  • D. P. ManzelloEmail author


The rapid growth of scleractinian corals is responsible for the persistence of coral reefs through time. Coral growth rates have declined over the past 30 years in the western Pacific, Indian, and North Atlantic Oceans. The spatial scale of this decline has led researchers to suggest that a global phenomenon like ocean acidification may be responsible. A multi-species inventory of coral growth from Pacific Panamá confirms that declines have occurred in some, but not all species. Linear extension declined significantly in the most important reef builder of the eastern tropical Pacific, Pocillopora damicornis, by nearly one-third from 1974 to 2006. The rate of decline in skeletal extension for P. damicornis from Pacific Panamá (0.9% year−1) was nearly identical to massive Porites in the Indo-Pacific over the past 20–30 years (0.89–1.23% year−1). The branching pocilloporid corals have shown an increased tolerance to recurrent thermal stress events in Panamá, but appear to be susceptible to acidification. In contrast, the massive pavonid corals have shown less tolerance to thermal stress, but may be less sensitive to acidification. These differing sensitivities will be a fundamental determinant of eastern tropical Pacific coral reef community structure with accelerating climate change that has implications for the future of reef communities worldwide.


Calcification Ocean acidification Climate change Eastern tropical Pacific Panamá 



Field support was provided by National Science Foundation grants to Peter W. Glynn (OCE-00002317 and OCE-0526361). Additional monetary and logistical support provided by J. Hendee and NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program. J. Maté assisted with collection permits and shipping of corals. D. McNeil and A. Buck from the department of Marine Geology and Geophysics of the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School are graciously acknowledged for allowing me to use the rock saw. A. Ferrell helped with density measurements for the 2005–2006 pocilloporid samples. I. Enochs assisted with buoyant weight setup. A. M. S. Correa assisted with background materials and idea development on Symbiodinium. Critical reviews by R. van Woesik, I. Enochs, A. M. S. Correa, and three anonymous reviewers improved the manuscript.

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