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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 706:33-46 (2023)  -  DOI:

Heating rate explains species-specific coral bleaching severity during a simulated marine heatwave

Defne Sahin1,2,3,*, Verena Schoepf1,4, Karen Filbee-Dexter1,2, Damian P. Thomson1,5, Ben Radford1,3, Thomas Wernberg1,2,6

1Oceans Institute, University of Western Australia, 6009 Crawley, Australia
2School of Biological Sciences, University of Western Australia, 6009 Crawley, Australia
3Australian Institute of Marine Science, 6009 Crawley, Australia
4Department of Freshwater and Marine Ecology, Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics, University of Amsterdam, 1098 XH Amsterdam, The Netherlands
5CSIRO Oceans & Atmosphere, 6009 Perth, Australia
6Department of Science and Environment, Roskilde University, 4000 Roskilde, Denmark
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Marine heatwaves (MHWs) are becoming more frequent as a consequence of climate change. These discrete events are causing widespread stress and mortality in marine ecosystems, including coral reefs. The heat tolerance of different coral species is often complex and depends on a combination of environmental and biological factors, making accurate predictions of the impact of MHWs on individual species challenging. Heating rate has been shown to influence coral bleaching in Acropora species, but it remains unknown how heating rate influences bleaching in other corals with contrasting morphology and bleaching sensitivities. In this study, we explored the sensitivity of Pocillopora damicornis and Plesiastrea versipora, representing branching and encrusting growth forms, respectively, to heating rate. We experimentally simulated MHWs with slow (0.5°C d-1) and fast (1°C d-1) heating rates and measured physiological responses to quantify changes in coral health, including photochemical efficiency, holobiont metabolism, tissue biomass, chl a, and symbiont density. Our results confirm that heating rate is a good predictor of coral bleaching sensitivity for these species, with faster heating rates causing more severe bleaching and declines in coral health. However, bleaching sensitivity differed between P. damicornis and P. versipora, with P. damicornis more affected by the faster heating rate. The use of heating rate, in addition to other metrics such as duration and intensity of heat, will enhance our capacity to predict the local impact of MHW events and their overarching ecological consequences for coral ecosystems.

KEY WORDS: Marine heatwave · Heating rate · Coral bleaching · Photo-physiology · Photosynthesis · Respiration · Western Australia

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Cite this article as: Sahin D, Schoepf V, Filbee-Dexter K, Thomson DP, Radford B, Wernberg T (2023) Heating rate explains species-specific coral bleaching severity during a simulated marine heatwave. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 706:33-46.

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