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      Tropical dead zones and mass mortalities on coral reefs

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          Abstract

          Degradation of coastal water quality in the form of low dissolved oxygen levels (hypoxia) can harm biodiversity, ecosystem function, and human wellbeing. Extreme hypoxic conditions along the coast, leading to what are often referred to as "dead zones," are known primarily from temperate regions. However, little is known about the potential threat of hypoxia in the tropics, even though the known risk factors, including eutrophication and elevated temperatures, are common. Here we document an unprecedented hypoxic event on the Caribbean coast of Panama and assess the risk of dead zones to coral reefs worldwide. The event caused coral bleaching and massive mortality of corals and other reef-associated organisms, but observed shifts in community structure combined with laboratory experiments revealed that not all coral species are equally sensitive to hypoxia. Analyses of global databases showed that coral reefs are associated with more than half of the known tropical dead zones worldwide, with >10% of all coral reefs at elevated risk for hypoxia based on local and global risk factors. Hypoxic events in the tropics and associated mortality events have likely been underreported, perhaps by an order of magnitude, because of the lack of local scientific capacity for their detection. Monitoring and management plans for coral reef resilience should incorporate the growing threat of coastal hypoxia and include support for increased detection and research capacity.

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          Most cited references 58

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          Coral reefs under rapid climate change and ocean acidification.

          Atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration is expected to exceed 500 parts per million and global temperatures to rise by at least 2 degrees C by 2050 to 2100, values that significantly exceed those of at least the past 420,000 years during which most extant marine organisms evolved. Under conditions expected in the 21st century, global warming and ocean acidification will compromise carbonate accretion, with corals becoming increasingly rare on reef systems. The result will be less diverse reef communities and carbonate reef structures that fail to be maintained. Climate change also exacerbates local stresses from declining water quality and overexploitation of key species, driving reefs increasingly toward the tipping point for functional collapse. This review presents future scenarios for coral reefs that predict increasingly serious consequences for reef-associated fisheries, tourism, coastal protection, and people. As the International Year of the Reef 2008 begins, scaled-up management intervention and decisive action on global emissions are required if the loss of coral-dominated ecosystems is to be avoided.
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            Spreading dead zones and consequences for marine ecosystems.

            Dead zones in the coastal oceans have spread exponentially since the 1960s and have serious consequences for ecosystem functioning. The formation of dead zones has been exacerbated by the increase in primary production and consequent worldwide coastal eutrophication fueled by riverine runoff of fertilizers and the burning of fossil fuels. Enhanced primary production results in an accumulation of particulate organic matter, which encourages microbial activity and the consumption of dissolved oxygen in bottom waters. Dead zones have now been reported from more than 400 systems, affecting a total area of more than 245,000 square kilometers, and are probably a key stressor on marine ecosystems.
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              Global trajectories of the long-term decline of coral reef ecosystems.

              Degradation of coral reef ecosystems began centuries ago, but there is no global summary of the magnitude of change. We compiled records, extending back thousands of years, of the status and trends of seven major guilds of carnivores, herbivores, and architectural species from 14 regions. Large animals declined before small animals and architectural species, and Atlantic reefs declined before reefs in the Red Sea and Australia, but the trajectories of decline were markedly similar worldwide. All reefs were substantially degraded long before outbreaks of coral disease and bleaching. Regardless of these new threats, reefs will not survive without immediate protection from human exploitation over large spatial scales.
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
                Proc Natl Acad Sci USA
                Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
                0027-8424
                1091-6490
                April 04 2017
                April 04 2017
                April 04 2017
                March 20 2017
                : 114
                : 14
                : 3660-3665
                Article
                10.1073/pnas.1621517114
                5389270
                28320966
                © 2017

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