Differential susceptibility of reef-building corals to deoxygenation reveals remarkable hypoxia tolerance.

Maggie D Johnson, Sara D Swaminathan, Emily N Nixon, Valerie J Paul, Andrew H Altieri

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Ocean deoxygenation threatens the persistence of coastal ecosystems worldwide. Despite an increasing awareness that coastal deoxygenation impacts tropical habitats, there remains a paucity of empirical data on the effects of oxygen limitation on reef-building corals. To address this knowledge gap, we conducted laboratory experiments with ecologically important Caribbean corals Acropora cervicornis and Orbicella faveolata. We tested the effects of continuous exposure to conditions ranging from extreme deoxygenation to normoxia (~ 1.0 to 6.25 mg L$^{-1}$ dissolved oxygen) on coral bleaching, photophysiology, and survival. Coral species demonstrated markedly different temporal resistance to deoxygenation, and within a species there were minimal genotype-specific treatment effects. Acropora cervicornis suffered tissue loss and mortality within a day of exposure to severe deoxygenation (~ 1.0 mg L$^{-1}$), whereas O. faveolata remained unaffected after 11 days of continuous exposure to 1.0 mg L$^{-1}$. Intermediate deoxygenation treatments (~ 2.25 mg L$^{-1}$, ~ 4.25 mg L$^{-1}$) elicited minimal responses in both species, indicating a low oxygen threshold for coral mortality and coral resilience to oxygen concentrations that are lethal for other marine organisms. These findings demonstrate the potential for variability in species-specific hypoxia thresholds, which has important implications for our ability to predict how coral reefs may be affected as ocean deoxygenation intensifies. With deoxygenation emerging as a critical threat to tropical habitats, there is an urgent need to incorporate deoxygenation into coral reef research, management, and action plans to facilitate better stewardship of coral reefs in an era of rapid environmental change.
Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalScientific reports
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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