Climate change disables coral bleaching protection on the Great Barrier Reef

Tracy D. Ainsworth*, Scott F. Heron, Juan Carlos Ortiz, Peter J. Mumby, Alana Grech, Daisie Ogawa, C. Mark Eakin, William Leggat

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    170 Citations (Scopus)

    Abstract

    Coral bleaching events threaten the sustainability of the Great Barrier Reef (GBR). Here we show that bleaching events of the past three decades have been mitigated by induced thermal tolerance of reef-building corals, and this protective mechanism is likely to be lost under near-future climate change scenarios. We show that 75% of past thermal stress events have been characterized by a temperature trajectory that subjects corals to a protective, sub-bleaching stress, before reaching temperatures that cause bleaching. Such conditions confer thermal tolerance, decreasing coral cell mortality and symbiont loss during bleaching by over 50%. We find that near-future increases in local temperature of as little as 0.5°C result in this protective mechanism being lost, which may increase the rate of degradation of the GBR.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)338-342
    Number of pages5
    JournalScience
    Volume352
    Issue number6283
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 15 Apr 2016

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    Ainsworth, T. D., Heron, S. F., Ortiz, J. C., Mumby, P. J., Grech, A., Ogawa, D., ... Leggat, W. (2016). Climate change disables coral bleaching protection on the Great Barrier Reef. Science, 352(6283), 338-342. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.aac7125