Increasing Coral Reef Resilience Through Successive Marine Heatwaves

Michael D. Fox*, Anne L. Cohen*, Randi D. Rotjan, Sangeeta Mangubhai, Stuart A. Sandin, Jennifer E. Smith, Simon R. Thorrold, Laura Dissly, Nathan R. Mollica, David Obura

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Ocean warming is causing declines of coral reefs globally, raising critical questions about the potential for corals to adapt. In the central equatorial Pacific, reefs persisting through recurrent El Niño heatwaves hold important clues. Using an 18-year record of coral cover spanning three major bleaching events, we show that the impact of thermal stress on coral mortality within the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA) has lessened over time. Disproportionate survival of extreme thermal stress during the 2009–2010 and 2015–2016 heatwaves, relative to that in 2002–2003, suggests that selective mortality through successive heatwaves may help shape coral community responses to future warming. Identifying and facilitating the conditions under which coral survival and recovery can keep pace with rates of warming are essential first steps toward successful stewardship of coral reefs under 21st century climate change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2021GL094128
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Issue number17
StatePublished - Sep 16 2021


  • adaptation
  • central Pacific
  • coral reefs
  • ENSO
  • oceanography
  • thermal stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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