MEPS - Vol. 337 - Feature article

Degree Heating Weeks (DHW) in the western Indian Ocean on April 30, 1998; magenta: maximum DHW. Data and image: NOAA/NESDIS Coral Reef Watch (coralreefwatch.noaa.gov/satellite)

McClanahan TR, Ateweberhan M, Graham NAJ, Wilson SK, Sebastián CR, Guillaume MMM, Bruggemann JH

 

Western Indian Ocean coral communities: bleaching responses and susceptibility to extinction

 

The 1998 El NiƱo Southern Oscillation (ENSO) produced the warmest warm-water anomaly in >100 years and led to large-scale bleaching and mortality of corals in the tropical Indian Ocean. McClanahan and colleagues studied 91 sites and found that the central and northern Indian Ocean sites lost the prevalence of branching and encrusting coral species, which had been widespread before 1998; these sites are now sparsely populated by corals that are resistant to warm water or benefit from disturbance. Reefs in a sector from southern Kenya to Mauritius still maintain their classic composition and may provide a refuge where vulnerable species survive a warming climate. The authors found that coral species' susceptibility to warming and vulnerability to extinction vary greatly, and they indicate which taxa and communities are likely to become dominant as the climate warms further.

 

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