Projections of climate conditions that increase coral disease susceptibility and pathogen abundance and virulence


Rising sea temperatures are likely to increase the frequency of disease outbreaks affecting reef-building corals through impacts on coral hosts and pathogens. We present and compare climate model projections of temperature conditions that will increase coral susceptibility to disease, pathogen abundance and pathogen virulence. Both moderate (RCP 4.5) and fossil fuel aggressive (RCP 8.5) emissions scenarios are examined. We also compare projections for the onset of disease-conducive conditions and severe annual coral bleaching, and produce a disease risk summary that combines climate stress with stress caused by local human activities. There is great spatial variation in the projections, both among and within the major ocean basins, in conditions favouring disease development. Our results indicate that disease is as likely to cause coral mortality as bleaching in the coming decades. These projections identify priority locations to reduce stress caused by local human activities and test management interventions to reduce disease impacts.

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Figure 1: Projections of temperature conditions that increase host susceptibility, pathogen abundance and pathogen virulence under RCPs 8.5 and 4.5.
Figure 2: Histograms and model means and spreads for the projections of temperature conditions under RCPs 8.5 and 4.5.
Figure 3: Summaries of projections for disease and bleaching conditions under RCP 8.5.
Figure 4: Anthropogenic stress patterns and disease risk based on exposure to anthropogenic and climate stress.


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This study was primarily funded by a grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Program Office prepared by S.F.H. and awarded to C.D.H. and C.M.E. (NA13OAR4310127). Support was also provided by a National Science Foundation Research Coordination Network grant to C.D.H., in-kind support from NOAA Atlantic and Oceanographic Meteorological Laboratory, as well as grants from the NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program, the US National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the Pacific Islands Climate Change Cooperative, the European Research Commission, and The Nature Conservancy. Use of data from ref. 28 benefited from discussions with L. Burke and K. Reytar. Figures were collaboratively developed with D. Tracey. The contents in this manuscript are solely the opinions of the authors and do not constitute a statement of policy, decision or position on behalf of the NOAA or the US Government.

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J.M., C.D.H., C.M.E., S.F.H., R.v.H., B.W., M.G., J.L. and G.W. designed the study. R.v.H. compiled and analysed the climate model data in collaboration with J.M. M.P. conducted the spatial analysis required to build the maps on which Figs 3 and 4 and Supplementary Figs 1 and 2 are based, in collaboration with J.M. J.M., C.D.H., C.M.E. and B.W. wrote the manuscript with assistance from all other authors.

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Correspondence to Jeffrey Maynard.

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Maynard, J., van Hooidonk, R., Eakin, C. et al. Projections of climate conditions that increase coral disease susceptibility and pathogen abundance and virulence. Nature Clim Change 5, 688–694 (2015).

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