The differential effects of increasing frequency and magnitude of extreme events on coral populations.
Published Web Locationhttps://doi.org/10.1890/14-0273.1
Extreme events, which have profound ecological consequences, are changing in both frequency and magnitude with climate change. Because extreme temperatures induce coral bleaching, we can explore the relative impacts of changes in frequency and magnitude of high temperature events on coral reefs. Here, we combined climate projections and a dynamic population model to determine how changing bleaching regimes influence coral persistence. We additionally explored how coral traits and competition with macroalgae mediate changes in bleaching regimes. Our results predict that severe bleaching events reduce coral persistence more than frequent bleaching. Corals with low adult mortality and high growth rates are successful when bleaching is mild, but bleaching resistance is necessary to persist when bleaching is severe, regardless of frequency. The existence of macroalgae-dominated stable states reduces coral persistence and changes the relative importance of coral traits. Building on previous studies, our results predict that management efforts may need to prioritize protection of "weaker" corals with high adult mortality when bleaching is mild, and protection of "stronger" corals with high bleaching resistance when bleaching is severe. In summary, future reef projections and conservation targets depend on both local bleaching regimes and biodiversity.