Thermal stress and tropical reefs: mass coral bleaching in a stable temperature environment?

  • Marcelo de Oliveira SoaresEmail author
  • Carlos Eduardo Peres Teixeira
  • Sarah Maria Cavalcante Ferreira
  • Anne Larisse Alves Rebouças Gurgel
  • Bárbara Pereira Paiva
  • Maria Ozilea Bezerra Menezes
  • Marcus Davis
  • Tallita Cruz Lopes Tavares
Short Communication


This study reports on the deepest records (~ 24 m depth) of coral bleaching in a naturally temperature-stable environment (> 26 °C with an intra-annual variability of ~ 2 °C), which was recorded during a mass bleaching event in the locally dominant, massive scleractinian coral Siderastrea stellata in equatorial waters of Brazil (SW Atlantic). An inter-annual analysis (2002–2017) indicated that this bleaching event was related to anomalies in sea surface temperature (SST) that led to the warmest year (2010) in this century (1 to 1.7 °C above average). Such anomalies caused heat stress (28.5–29.5 °C) in this equatorial environment that resulted in a bleaching event. Our results suggest that the increase in SST, low turbidity, and weak winds may have acted together to affect these stress-tolerant corals in marginal reefs. The equatorial coastline of Brazil is characterized by low intra-annual and inter-annual variations in SST, which suggests that the S. stellata corals here may be acclimatized to these stable conditions and, consequently, have a lower bleaching threshold because of lower historical heat stress.


ENSO Coral reef Temperature Climate change Siderastrea stellata Brazil 



We appreciate the constructive comments made by two anonymous reviewers on the manuscript.

Authors’ contributions

MOS and TT conceived and coordinated the study, analyzed coral species and remote sensing data, participated in its design, and helped to write and revise the manuscript. MD, SF, BP, MM, and AG executed the study and revised the manuscript. CEPT helped to write and revise the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Funding information

Financial support was provided by the Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico — CNPq (Grants 233808/2014-0 and 307061/2017), CAPES-PRINT Program, Projeto CORAL VIVO, PRONEX FUNCAP/CNPq (Grant PR2-0101-00008.01.00/15), and INCT AmbTropic (National Institute of Science and Technology for the Tropical Marine Environment).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Ethical approval

No animal testing was performed during this study.

Sampling and field studies

All necessary permits for sampling and observational field studies have been obtained by the authors from the competent authorities and are mentioned in the acknowledgments, if applicable. The study is compliant with the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and Nagoya Protocol.

Data availability

The datasets generated during and/or analyzed during the current study are available as supplementary material.

Supplementary material

12526_2019_994_MOESM1_ESM.doc (6.4 mb)
ESM 1 (DOC 6580 kb)


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Copyright information

© Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marcelo de Oliveira Soares
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Carlos Eduardo Peres Teixeira
    • 1
  • Sarah Maria Cavalcante Ferreira
    • 1
  • Anne Larisse Alves Rebouças Gurgel
    • 1
  • Bárbara Pereira Paiva
    • 1
  • Maria Ozilea Bezerra Menezes
    • 1
  • Marcus Davis
    • 1
    • 3
  • Tallita Cruz Lopes Tavares
    • 1
  1. 1.Instituto de Ciências do Mar-LABOMARUniversidade Federal do CearáFortalezaBrazil
  2. 2.Institut de Ciència i Tecnologia Ambientals (ICTA)Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB)BarcelonaSpain
  3. 3.Mar do CearáFortalezaBrazil

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