Palau’s warmest reefs harbor thermally tolerant corals that thrive across different habitats

Hanny E. Rivera, Anne L. Cohen, Janelle R. Thompson, Iliana B Baums, Michael D. Fox, Kirstin S. Meyer-Kaiser

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations

Abstract

Ocean warming is killing corals, but heat-tolerant populations exist; if protected, they could replenish affected reefs naturally or through restoration. Palau’s Rock Islands experience consistently higher temperatures and extreme heatwaves, yet their diverse coral communities bleach less than those on Palau’s cooler outer reefs. Here, we combined genetic analyses, bleaching histories and growth rates of Porites cf. lobata colonies to identify thermally tolerant genotypes, map their distribution, and investigate potential growth trade-offs. We identified four genetic lineages of P. cf. lobata. On Palau’s outer reefs, a thermally sensitive lineage dominates. The Rock Islands harbor two lineages with enhanced thermal tolerance; one of which shows no consistent growth trade-off and also occurs on several outer reefs. This suggests that the Rock Islands provide naturally tolerant larvae to neighboring areas. Finding and protecting such sources of thermally-tolerant corals is key to reef survival under 21st century climate change.
Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalCommunications Biology
Volume5
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 21 2022

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