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Coupling of palaeontological and neontological reef coral data improves forecasts of biodiversity responses under global climatic change

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Article number182111
Number of pages13
JournalRoyal Society Open Science
Issue number4
Early online date24 Apr 2019
DateAccepted/In press - 1 Apr 2019
DateE-pub ahead of print (current) - 24 Apr 2019


Reef corals are currently undergoing climatically driven poleward range expansions, with some evidence for equatorial range retractions. Predicting their response to future climate scenarios is critical to their conservation, but ecological models are based only on short-term observations. The fossil record provides the only empirical evidence for the long-term response of organisms under perturbed climate states. The palaeontological record from the Last Interglacial (LIG; 125 000 years ago), a time of global warming, suggests that reef corals experienced poleward range shifts and an equatorial decline relative to their modern distribution. However, this record is spatio-temporally biased, and existing methods cannot account for data absence. Here, we use ecological niche modelling to estimate reef corals' realized niche and LIG distribution, based on modern and fossil occurrences. We then make inferences about modelled habitability under two future climate change scenarios (RCP4.5 and RCP8.5). Reef coral ranges during the LIG were comparable to the present, with no prominent equatorial decrease in habitability. Reef corals are likely to experience poleward range expansion and large equatorial declines under RCP4.5 and RCP8.5. However, this range expansion is probably optimistic in the face of anthropogenic climate change. Incorporation of fossil data in niche models improves forecasts of biodiversity responses under global climatic change.

    Research areas

  • Climate change, Conservation palaeobiology, Ecological niche modelling, Fossil bias, Last interglacial, Reef corals

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