Research Projects 2014-2016

Coral adaptation and acclimitization to global change: Resilience to hotter, more acidic oceans

PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR: Robert Toonen
Graduate Trainee: Christopher Jury

A net with solitary coral growth hangs in murky bay waters
Experimental coral growth in Kāneʻohe Bay.

We showed that three of the most common species of Hawaiian reef-building corals (Rice coral, Montipora capitata; Lace coral, Pocillopora damicornis; and Finger coral, Porites compressa) show significant differences in temperature and pH tolerance across a natural environmental gradient between Kāne‘ohe Bay (high temperature, low pH) and Waimānalo (normal temperature, normal pH), O‘ahu. Kāne‘ohe Bay experiences naturally elevated temperature and reduced pH conditions as compared to most other Hawaiian reefs, and corals in the Bay already experience environmental conditions which most other Hawaiian corals will not face for another 30-100 years. Many predict that coral reefs are likely to face extinction by the end of the century due to anthropogenic climate change. We find clear evidence that it is possible for the dominant Hawaiian coral species to not only survive but to thrive in future, warmer, more acidic ocean, if climate change and ocean acidification are limited to moderate levels and other human impacts to coral reefs (such as sedimentation, nutrient input, and herbivore removal) are reduced.