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Coral reefs

Corals' adaptive response to climate change

Nature volume 430, page 741 (12 August 2004) | Download Citation

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Abstract

The long-term response of coral reefs to climate change depends on the ability of reef-building coral symbioses to adapt or acclimatize to warmer temperatures, but there has been no direct evidence that such a response can occur. Here we show that corals containing unusual algal symbionts that are thermally tolerant and commonly associated with high-temperature environments are much more abundant on reefs that have been severely affected by recent climate change. This adaptive shift in symbiont communities indicates that these devastated reefs could be more resistant to future thermal stress, resulting in significantly longer extinction times for surviving corals than had been previously assumed.

Shifting to new algal symbionts may safeguard devastated reefs from extinction.

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Author information

Affiliations

  1. *Marine Program, Wildlife Conservation Society, Bronx, New York 10460, USA

    • Andrew C. Baker
    •  & Tim R. McClanahan
  2. †Center for Environmental Research and Conservation, Columbia University, New York, New York 10027, USA

    • Andrew C. Baker
  3. ‡Department of Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology, Columbia University, New York, New York 10027, USA

    • Craig J. Starger
  4. §Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, University of Miami, Florida 33149, USA

    • Peter W. Glynn

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Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Andrew C. Baker.

Supplementary information

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    Supplementary Information

    Tables 1a-1e provide sampling details for the data summarized as pie charts in Figure 1.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/430741a

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