Focus |

Coral reefs

Coral reefs are astoundingly diverse ecosystems, built through intricate biotic and abiotic relationships. Yet climate change, pollution and over-harvesting are jeopardising not only the beauty and ecology of these systems, but also the food security, livelihoods and wave protection of hundreds of millions of people. This Focus brings together recent research and opinion published in Nature Research journals on the fundamentals of reef systems and how our activities are affecting them.

Editorial

  • Nature Ecology & Evolution | Editorial

    One of the most visible impacts of current climate change is the catastrophic bleaching and death of corals in reefs around the world. This issue of Nature Ecology & Evolution and an online Focus highlight recent research documenting the transformation of these systems.

Reef biology

  • Nature Ecology & Evolution | Article

    Large-scale phylogenetic analysis of coral reef fish species shows that functional traits evolve fastest in those at high and low trophic levels with narrow diet breadth.

    • Samuel R. Borstein
    • , James A. Fordyce
    • , Brian C. O’Meara
    • , Peter C. Wainwright
    •  &  Matthew D. McGee
  • Nature Ecology & Evolution | Article

    Larval dispersal of clownfish and butterflyfish across a 10,000 km2 area was tracked over 2 years, a large enough scale to inform the design of marine reserve networks and test their performance.

    • Glenn R. Almany
    • , Serge Planes
    • , Simon R. Thorrold
    • , Michael L. Berumen
    • , Michael Bode
    • , Pablo Saenz-Agudelo
    • , Mary C. Bonin
    • , Ashley J. Frisch
    • , Hugo B. Harrison
    • , Vanessa Messmer
    • , Gerrit B. Nanninga
    • , Mark A. Priest
    • , Maya Srinivasan
    • , Tane Sinclair-Taylor
    • , David H. Williamson
    •  &  Geoffrey P. Jones
  • Nature Ecology & Evolution | Article

    High-throughput metabarcoding of coral reef fish larvae from the Red Sea enables species-level reconstruction of the highly biodiverse larval community, and their spatio-temporal distribution and abundance.

    • Naama Kimmerling
    • , Omer Zuqert
    • , Gil Amitai
    • , Tamara Gurevich
    • , Rachel Armoza-Zvuloni
    • , Irina Kolesnikov
    • , Igal Berenshtein
    • , Sarah Melamed
    • , Shlomit Gilad
    • , Sima Benjamin
    • , Asaph Rivlin
    • , Moti Ohavia
    • , Claire B. Paris
    • , Roi Holzman
    • , Moshe Kiflawi
    •  &  Rotem Sorek
  • Nature Geoscience | Article

    The Great Barrier Reef has migrated rapidly in response to sea-level changes since the last glacial period, suggesting resilience to environmental stress over this interval, according to a reconstruction of reef accretion.

    • Jody M. Webster
    • , Juan Carlos Braga
    • , Marc Humblet
    • , Donald C. Potts
    • , Yasufumi Iryu
    • , Yusuke Yokoyama
    • , Kazuhiko Fujita
    • , Raphael Bourillot
    • , Tezer M. Esat
    • , Stewart Fallon
    • , William G. Thompson
    • , Alexander L. Thomas
    • , Hironobu Kan
    • , Helen V. McGregor
    • , Gustavo Hinestrosa
    • , Stephen P. Obrochta
    •  &  Bryan C. Lougheed

Human impacts

  • Nature Ecology & Evolution | Article

    Twenty years of catch data and habitat surveys in coral reef fisheries in the Seychelles reveal that total yields can be maintained after severe bleaching and associated regime shifts, but the stability of fisheries is reduced.

    • James P. W. Robinson
    • , Shaun K. Wilson
    • , Jan Robinson
    • , Calvin Gerry
    • , Juliette Lucas
    • , Cindy Assan
    • , Rodney Govinden
    • , Simon Jennings
    •  &  Nicholas A. J. Graham
  • Nature Ecology & Evolution | Brief Communication

    Experimental removal of corallivorous snails from corals in the Caribbean Sea shows that this local management action can improve coral resilience to severe warming through reducing bleaching severity and post-bleaching tissue mortality.

    • Elizabeth C. Shaver
    • , Deron E. Burkepile
    •  &  Brian R. Silliman
  • Nature Ecology & Evolution | Article

    Biological responses to ocean acidification will depend on variation in tolerance and phenotypic plasticity over different timescales. This study of the spiny damselfish demonstrates the importance of parental variation and transgenerational effects in the response of fish to ocean acidification.

    • Celia Schunter
    • , Megan J. Welch
    • , Göran E. Nilsson
    • , Jodie L. Rummer
    • , Philip L. Munday
    •  &  Timothy Ravasi
  • Nature Microbiology | Article

    Analysis of 60 sites in three ocean basins suggests that overgrowth of fleshy algae on coral reefs supports higher microbial abundances dominated by copiotrophic, potentially pathogenic bacteria via the provision of dissolved inorganic carbon.

    • Andreas F. Haas
    • , Mohamed F. M. Fairoz
    • , Linda W. Kelly
    • , Craig E. Nelson
    • , Elizabeth A. Dinsdale
    • , Robert A. Edwards
    • , Steve Giles
    • , Mark Hatay
    • , Nao Hisakawa
    • , Ben Knowles
    • , Yan Wei Lim
    • , Heather Maughan
    • , Olga Pantos
    • , Ty N. F. Roach
    • , Savannah E. Sanchez
    • , Cynthia B. Silveira
    • , Stuart Sandin
    • , Jennifer E. Smith
    •  &  Forest Rohwer
  • Nature Climate Change | Letter

    The impact of coral bleaching and mortality is found to reduce aggression in resident butterflyfish. This is linked to the lower dietary percentage of preferred food, nutritionally rich Acropora coral, with a less nutritious diet influencing aggressive behaviour.

    • Sally A. Keith
    • , Andrew H. Baird
    • , Jean-Paul A. Hobbs
    • , Erika S. Woolsey
    • , Andrew S. Hoey
    • , N. Fadli
    •  &  Nathan J. Sanders

Opinion

  • Nature Ecology & Evolution | News & Views

    An integration of 20 years of data on fisheries catch and reef habitat characteristics shows how bleaching-induced shifts in reefscapes change species abundances but may not impair total catch capacity.

    • Alice Rogers
  • Nature Ecology & Evolution | News & Views

    Rapid evolution of morphological variations is shown to be linked to positions of coral reef fishes at trophic-web extremes. This finding suggests that current fishing practices on coral reefs that target top predators and seaweed-grazing fishes may undermine the potential for future species diversification.

    • Mariana G. Bender
    •  &  Osmar J. Luiz
  • Nature Ecology & Evolution | News & Views

    The importance of biodiversity for productive community functioning is emerging as one of a very few general rules in ecology, but evidence has been sparse that it applies in tropical coral reefs—until now.

    • J. Emmett Duffy
  • Nature Ecology & Evolution | Comment

    We anticipate that conventional management approaches will be insufficient to protect coral reefs, even if global warming is limited to 1.5 °C. Emerging technologies are needed to stem the decline of these natural assets.

    • Ken Anthony
    • , Line K. Bay
    • , Robert Costanza
    • , Jennifer Firn
    • , John Gunn
    • , Peter Harrison
    • , Andrew Heyward
    • , Petra Lundgren
    • , David Mead
    • , Tom Moore
    • , Peter J. Mumby
    • , Madeleine J. H. van Oppen
    • , John Robertson
    • , Michael C. Runge
    • , David J. Suggett
    • , Britta Schaffelke
    • , David Wachenfeld
    •  &  Terry Walshe
  • Nature Ecology & Evolution | Obituary

    Coral biologist and tireless reef advocate.

    • Peter J. Edmunds
    •  &  Virginia M. Weis
  • Nature | News & Views

    An assessment of the capacity of coral reefs to grow fast enough to keep up with projected rises in sea level finds that most reefs will fall behind if nothing is done to restore them.

    • Ilsa B. Kuffner