There is concern that elevated sea temperatures and ocean acidification may influence the resilience of coral reefs, inherently affecting their vital role of providing the structure which maintains ecosystem services around the world. This review explores the idea of artificially enhancing the ability of reef building organisms to handle stress and accelerate recovery after impact. While there is concern that artificially manipulated organisms may have a biological advantage over endemic species, corals are good candidates for assisted evolution. The authors advocate that stress exposure to natural stock, active modification of community composition of coral symbionts, selective breeding, and laboratory breeding of the symbionts all warrant research attention. As controversy continues to surround these ideas, it is important to consider that assisted evolution strategies such as these may increase the adaptive capacity of corals, perhaps allowing them to better respond to environmental and anthropogenic stressors more easily, in turn directly enhancing resilience.
Author: van Oppen, M.J.H., J.K. Oliver, H.M. Putnam, and R.D. Gates
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Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 112(8): 2307-2313
There have been few investigations on the effects of climate change on coral reef resilience. This study focuses on how a single climate driver, sea surface temperature (SST), can both chronically (growth rate) and acutely (bleaching) affect coral reefs. A spatially explicit model was used to simulate the effects of both chronic and acute thermal stress when acting together and separately. As expected, when thermal stress does not affect reefs, coral cover increases over time. Acute thermal disturbances were found to considerably reduce coral cover and reduce reef resilience. Chronic thermal disturbances lowered resilience, but at a much smaller magnitude than those that were acute. When acting together, acute and chronic stressors act in synergism to reduce resilience. In moving forward in a changing climate, the authors argue that it is imperative to consider synergism among stressors when thinking about the future impact of climate change on reef resilience. Additionally, since reef state, or percent coral cover, and reef resilience are largely unrelated, management efforts should not be solely focused on coral cover as resilience episodes may go unnoticed. It is reef resilience that will ultimately help to identify and hopefully repair ecosystem dysfunction before any stress or damage inflicted becomes permanent.
Author: Bozec, Y-M. and P.J. Mumby
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Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 370: 20130267