Inter-Research > MEPS > v603 > p257-264  

MEPS 603:257-264 (2018)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps12732

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A decline in bleaching suggests that depth can provide a refuge from global warming in most coral taxa

Andrew H. Baird1,*, Joshua S. Madin2, Mariana Álvarez-Noriega1,3, Luisa Fontoura4, James T. Kerry1, Chao-Yang Kuo1,5, Kristin Precoda2, Damaris Torres-Pulliza4, Rachael M. Woods4, Kyle J. A. Zawada4,6, Terry P. Hughes1

1Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University, Townsville, QLD 4811, Australia
2Hawai‘i Institute of Marine Biology, School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology, University of Hawai‘i, Kāne‘ohe, HI 96744, USA
3College of Marine & Environmental Sciences, James Cook University, Townsville, QLD 4811, Australia
4Department of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University, Sydney, NSW 2109, Australia
5Biodiversity Research Center, Academia Sinica, Nankang, Taipei 11529, Taiwan
6Centre for Biological Diversity, Scottish Oceans Institute, University of St. Andrews, St. Andrews KY16 9TH, Scotland, UK
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Coral reefs are under increasing threat from increasing warm temperature stress. Coral bleaching is caused by a combination of heat and light anomalies and therefore fewer corals should bleach in areas where either heat or light anomalies are ameliorated, such as in turbid waters or at depth. Here, we explore the overall response of the coral assemblage and of 16 individual taxa to a thermal anomaly along a depth gradient during the 2016 mass bleaching event at sites on the outer shelf of the northern Great Barrier Reef. Across all taxa, there was a curvilinear decline in the percentage of colonies bleached with depth that was consistent among sites and reflected the attenuation of light in the ocean. The percentage of colonies bleached was also higher on reefs with higher levels of temperature stress. In 10 taxa, including the abundant and ecologically significant Acropora, Pocillopora and Porites, the percentage of colonies bleached declined with depth. In 4 taxa, the percentage of colonies bleached peaked at intermediate depth. In 2 taxa, there was no effect of depth because bleaching was uniformly low. These data suggest that deeper areas of reef can provide a refuge from mass bleaching for many colonies of most taxa.


KEY WORDS: Climate change · Global warming · Coral reefs · Depth zonation · Disturbance · Recovery


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Cite this article as: Baird AH, Madin JS, Álvarez-Noriega M, Fontoura L and others (2018) A decline in bleaching suggests that depth can provide a refuge from global warming in most coral taxa. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 603:257-264. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps12732

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