MEPS 560:147-158 (2016)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps11931

Ocean warming and the demography of declines in coral body size

Robin Elahi1,*, Kenneth P. Sebens2, Giulio A. De Leo

1Hopkins Marine Station, Stanford University, Pacific Grove, CA 93940, USA
2Department of Biology and Friday Harbor Laboratories, University of Washington, Friday Harbor, WA 98250, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Reductions in body size are hypothesized to be a universal response to climate warming, yet the proximate causes of change remain unresolved. In this study, we combined field evidence and demographic models to explore mechanisms relevant to temperature-related declines in the body size of an ectotherm exhibiting indeterminate growth. Our field data demonstrate that the body size of cup corals Balanophyllia elegans has decreased by ~35% over nearly 4 decades (1969-2007), during which seawater temperatures have increased by 0.6°C in the San Juan Islands, Washington State, USA. We developed a modeling framework, based on the Arrhenius equation and temperature-size theory, to explore the thermal dependence of maximum body size. Our models identified the growth rate of corals as a key demographic leverage point for changes in maximum body size, but temperature alone was likely insufficient to cause the observed magnitude of change. Our case study provides a simple template for integrating detailed demographic data with predictions derived from the temperature-size theory, in order to evaluate empirically the magnitude of body size decline in the context of climate warming. 


KEY WORDS: Balanophyllia elegans · Climate change · Temperature-size rule


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Cite this article as: Elahi R, Sebens KP, De Leo GA (2016) Ocean warming and the demography of declines in coral body size. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 560:147-158. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps11931

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