Coral reef survival under accelerating ocean deoxygenation


Global warming and local eutrophication simultaneously lower oxygen (O2) saturation and increase biological O2 demands to cause deoxygenation. Tropical shallow waters, and their coral reefs, are particularly vulnerable to extreme low O2 (hypoxia) events. These events can drive mass mortality of reef biota; however, they currently remain unaccounted for when considering coral reef persistence under local environmental alterations and global climatic change. In this Perspective, we integrate existing biological, ecological and geochemical evidence to consider how O2 availability and hypoxia affect reef biota, with particular focus on the ecosystem architects, reef-building corals, that operate as both O2 consumers and producers. We pinpoint fundamental knowledge gaps and highlight the need to understand sub-lethal hypoxia effects that are likely already in play.

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Fig. 1: Geological reconstructed atmospheric O2, CO2 and global mean temperatures, and recent and projected oceanic dissolved O2, sea surface pH and temperature.
Fig. 2: Hypoxia thresholds and diurnal-dissolved O2 changes.
Fig. 3: Important biotic and abiotic processes affecting hypoxia exposure in tropical reefs from the ecosystem to molecular level.


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Funding for this Perspective was provided by the Australian Research Council (ARC) discovery grant (grant no. DP180100074) to D.J.S, M.P, M.K and C.R.V.

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All authors contributed significantly with their respective expertise to the formulation, writing and editing. D.J.H performed digitization and analysis of peer-reviewed data.

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Correspondence to David J. Hughes or David J. Suggett.

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Hughes, D.J., Alderdice, R., Cooney, C. et al. Coral reef survival under accelerating ocean deoxygenation. Nat. Clim. Chang. 10, 296–307 (2020).

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