Extreme temperature events will drive coral decline in the Coral Triangle

Lisa C. McManus, Vítor V. Vasconcelos, Simon A. Levin, Diane M. Thompson, Joan A. Kleypas, Frederic S. Castruccio, Enrique N. Curchitser, James R. Watson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


In light of rapid environmental change, quantifying the contribution of regional- and local-scale drivers of coral persistence is necessary to characterize fully the resilience of coral reef systems. To assess multiscale responses to thermal perturbation of corals in the Coral Triangle (CT), we developed a spatially explicit metacommunity model with coral–algal competition, including seasonal larval dispersal and external spatiotemporal forcing. We tested coral sensitivity in 2,083 reefs across the CT region and surrounding areas under potential future temperature regimes, with and without interannual climate variability, exploring a range of 0.5–2.0°C overall increase in temperature in the system by 2054. We found that among future projections, reef survival probability and mean percent coral cover over time were largely determined by the presence or absence of interannual sea surface temperature (SST) extremes as well as absolute temperature increase. Overall, reefs that experienced SST time series that were filtered to remove interannual variability had approximately double the chance of survival than reefs subjected to unfiltered SST. By the end of the forecast period, the inclusion of thermal anomalies was equivalent to an increase of at least 0.5°C in SST projections without anomalies. Change in percent coral cover varied widely across the region within temperature scenarios, with some reefs experiencing local extinction while others remaining relatively unchanged. Sink strength and current thermal stress threshold were found to be significant drivers of these patterns, highlighting the importance of processes that underlie larval connectivity and bleaching sensitivity in coral networks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2120-2133
Number of pages14
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Environmental Science
  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Ecology
  • Environmental Chemistry


  • El Niño
  • climate change
  • climate variability
  • coral persistence
  • metacommunity
  • resilience
  • seascape


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