Repeated Thermal Stress, Shading, and Directional Selection in the Florida Reef Tract
van Woesik, Robert
McCaffrey, Kelly Renee
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Over the last three decades reef corals have been subjected to an unprecedented frequency and intensity of thermal-stress events, which have led to extensive coral bleaching, disease, and mortality. Over the next century, the climate is predicted to drive sea-surface temperatures to even higher levels, consequently increasing the risk of mass bleaching and disease outbreaks. Yet, there is considerable temporal and spatial variation in coral bleaching and in disease prevalence. Using data collected from 2,398 sites along the Florida reef tract from 2005 to 2015, this study examined the temporal and spatial patterns of coral bleaching and disease in relation to coral-colony size, depth, temperature, and chlorophyll-a concentrations. The results show that coral bleaching was most prevalent during the warmest years in 2014 and 2015, and disease was also most prevalent in 2010, 2014, and 2015. Although the majority of the corals surveyed were found in habitats with low chlorophyll-a concentrations, and high irradiance, these same habitats showed the highest prevalence of coral bleaching and disease outbreaks during thermal-stress events. These results suggest that directional selection in a warming ocean may favor corals able to tolerate inshore, shaded environments with high turbidity and productivity.