Coral bleaching pathways under the control of regional temperature variability

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Nature Climate Change, 2017, 7 (11), pp. 839 - 844
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Increasing sea surface temperatures (SSTs) are predicted to adversely impact coral populations worldwide through increasing thermal bleaching events. Future bleaching is unlikely to be spatially uniform. Therefore, understanding what determines regional differences will be critical for adaptation management. Here, using a cumulative heat stress metric, we show that characteristics of regional SST determine the future bleaching risk patterns. Incorporating observed information on SST variability, in assessing future bleaching risk, provides novel options for management strategies. As a consequence, the known biases in climate model variability and the uncertainties in regional warming rate across climate models are less detrimental than previously thought. We also show that the thresholds used to indicate reef viability can strongly influence a decision on what constitutes a potential refugia. Observing and understanding the drivers of regional variability, and the viability limits of coral reefs, is therefore critical for making meaningful projections of coral bleaching risk.
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