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      Depth-dependent mortality of reef corals following a severe bleaching event: implications for thermal refuges and population recovery

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          Abstract

          Coral bleaching caused by rising sea temperature is a primary cause of coral reef degradation. However, bleaching patterns often show significant spatial variability, therefore identifying locations where local conditions may provide thermal refuges is a high conservation priority. Coral bleaching mortality often diminishes with increasing depth, but clear depth zonation of coral communities and putative limited overlap in species composition between deep and shallow reef habitats has led to the conclusion that deeper reef habitats will provide limited refuge from bleaching for most species. Here, we show that coral mortality following a severe bleaching event diminished sharply with depth.Bleaching-induced mortality of Acroporawas approximately 90% at 0-2m, 60% at 3-4 m, yet at 6-8m there was negligible mortality. Importantly, at least two-thirds of the shallow-water (2-3 m) Acroporaassemblage had a depth range that straddled the transition from high to low mortality. Cold-water upwelling may have contributed to the lower mortality observed in all but the shallowest depths. Our results demonstrate that, in this instance, depth provided a refuge for individuals from a high proportion of species in this Acropora-dominated assemblage. The persistence of deeper populations may provide a critical source of propagules to assist recovery of adjacent shallow-water reefs.

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          Most cited references 42

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          Climate change, human impacts, and the resilience of coral reefs.

          The diversity, frequency, and scale of human impacts on coral reefs are increasing to the extent that reefs are threatened globally. Projected increases in carbon dioxide and temperature over the next 50 years exceed the conditions under which coral reefs have flourished over the past half-million years. However, reefs will change rather than disappear entirely, with some species already showing far greater tolerance to climate change and coral bleaching than others. International integration of management strategies that support reef resilience need to be vigorously implemented, and complemented by strong policy decisions to reduce the rate of global warming.
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            The 27-year decline of coral cover on the Great Barrier Reef and its causes.

            The world's coral reefs are being degraded, and the need to reduce local pressures to offset the effects of increasing global pressures is now widely recognized. This study investigates the spatial and temporal dynamics of coral cover, identifies the main drivers of coral mortality, and quantifies the rates of potential recovery of the Great Barrier Reef. Based on the world's most extensive time series data on reef condition (2,258 surveys of 214 reefs over 1985-2012), we show a major decline in coral cover from 28.0% to 13.8% (0.53% y(-1)), a loss of 50.7% of initial coral cover. Tropical cyclones, coral predation by crown-of-thorns starfish (COTS), and coral bleaching accounted for 48%, 42%, and 10% of the respective estimated losses, amounting to 3.38% y(-1) mortality rate. Importantly, the relatively pristine northern region showed no overall decline. The estimated rate of increase in coral cover in the absence of cyclones, COTS, and bleaching was 2.85% y(-1), demonstrating substantial capacity for recovery of reefs. In the absence of COTS, coral cover would increase at 0.89% y(-1), despite ongoing losses due to cyclones and bleaching. Thus, reducing COTS populations, by improving water quality and developing alternative control measures, could prevent further coral decline and improve the outlook for the Great Barrier Reef. Such strategies can, however, only be successful if climatic conditions are stabilized, as losses due to bleaching and cyclones will otherwise increase.
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              One-third of reef-building corals face elevated extinction risk from climate change and local impacts.

              The conservation status of 845 zooxanthellate reef-building coral species was assessed by using International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List Criteria. Of the 704 species that could be assigned conservation status, 32.8% are in categories with elevated risk of extinction. Declines in abundance are associated with bleaching and diseases driven by elevated sea surface temperatures, with extinction risk further exacerbated by local-scale anthropogenic disturbances. The proportion of corals threatened with extinction has increased dramatically in recent decades and exceeds that of most terrestrial groups. The Caribbean has the largest proportion of corals in high extinction risk categories, whereas the Coral Triangle (western Pacific) has the highest proportion of species in all categories of elevated extinction risk. Our results emphasize the widespread plight of coral reefs and the urgent need to enact conservation measures.
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                F1000Research
                F1000Res
                F1000 ( Faculty of 1000 Ltd)
                2046-1402
                2013
                October 31 2013
                : 2
                : 187
                Article
                10.12688/f1000research.2-187.v2
                © 2013

                http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

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