Ecological Modelling Research Group

Ecological Modelling Research Group Research Ecological Modelling Research Group

Effects of Climate Change on Coral Reefs


Anyone who doesn’t live in a cave in the desert has heard that climate change is already adversely affecting important aspects of coral reefs – particularly the corals that are responsible for reef growth, and for the structural complexity that helps sustain reefs’ high biodiversity. We work on a range of topics with implications for reefs’ likely responses to climate change, including:

  • Many field and experimental studies have sought to estimate how the calcification of corals is likely to respond to increasing acidity of the oceans driven by ocean uptake of atmospheric CO2, and projected effects now span an incredibly broad range. Our work on acidification aims to, firstly, quantify the distribution of likely responses implied by experimental studies of ocean acidification; secondly, evaluate the effects of environmental variables that might influence corals’ sensitivity to acidification, and whose effects may be very different in the laboratory compared to the ocean; and thirdly, integrate the effects of reduced calcification over the lifetime of corals, to understand the population-dynamic implications of acidification.

  • One of the most extensively documented regularities in biology is the temperature-dependence of metabolic rate. We are characterizing how temperature-dependent changes in metabolism of larvae influence their mortality and development, and using this information to determine how dispersal potential in corals is likely to change as a consequence of warming ocean temperatures.

  • Bleaching is one of the most conspicuous impacts of climate change, and there is considerable interest in whether bleaching will interact “synergistically” with other stressors that influence coral reefs (such as pollution and disease). We are critically evaluating the strength of evidence for such effects, using large-scale, long-term monitoring data, coupled with the meta-analysis of experimental studies.

Current Researchers:

  • Neil Chan

  • Stephen Ban

  • Joana Figueiredo

  • Sean Connolly

Current Collaborators:

Recent Publications:

  • Anthony, K. R. N., S. R. Connolly, and O. Hoegh-Guldberg. 2007. Bleaching, energetics, and coral mortality risk: Effects of temperature, light, and sediment regime. Limnology and Oceanography 52(2):716-726.

  • Pandolfi, J.M., S.R. Connolly, D.J. Marshall, and A.L. Cohen. 2011. Projecting coral reef futures under global warming and ocean acidification. Science 333: 418-422.

  • Connolly, S.R., M.A. Lopez-Yglesias, and K.R.N. Anthony. In press. Food availability promotes rapid recovery from thermal stress in a scleractinian coral. Coral Reefs. DOI 10.1007/s00338-012-0925-9.

  • Ban, S.S., N.A.J. Graham, and S.R. Connolly. Relationships between temperature, bleaching, and white syndrome on the Great Barrier Reef. Coral Reefs. DOI 10.1007/s00338-012-0944-6.

  • Chan, N.C.S. and S.R. Connolly. Sensitivity of coral calcification to ocean acidification: a meta-analysis. Global Change Biology, in press. Accepted 8 August, 2012.