Paris Agreement could prevent regional mass extinctions of coral species

Elena Couce*, Benjamin Cowburn, David Clare, Joanna K. Bluemel

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Coral reef ecosystems are expected to undergo significant declines over the coming decades as oceans become warmer and more acidic. We investigate the environmental tolerances of over 650 Scleractinian coral species based on the conditions found within their present-day ranges and in areas where they are currently absent but could potentially reach via larval dispersal. These “environmental envelopes” and connectivity constraints are then used to develop global forecasts for potential coral species richness under two emission scenarios, representing the Paris Agreement target (“SSP1-2.6”) and high levels of emissions (“SSP5-8.5”). Although we do not directly predict coral mortality or adaptation, the projected changes to environmental suitability suggest considerable potential declines in coral species richness for the majority of the world’s tropical coral reefs, with a net loss in average local richness of 73% (Paris Agreement) to 91% (High Emissions) by 2080-2090 and particularly large declines across sites in the Great Barrier Reef, Coral Sea, Western Indian Ocean and Caribbean. However, at the regional scale, we find that environmental suitability for the majority of coral species can be largely maintained under the Paris Agreement target, with 0-30% potential net species lost in most regions (increasing to 50% for the Great Barrier Reef) as opposed to 80-90% losses in most areas under High Emissions. Projections for sub-tropical areas suggest that range expansion will give rise to coral reefs with low species richness (typically 10-20 coral species per region) and will not meaningfully offset declines in the tropics. This work represents the first global projection of coral species richness under oceanic warming and acidification. Our results highlight the critical importance of mitigating climate change to avoid potentially massive extinctions of coral species.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3794 - 3805
Number of pages12
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Volume29
Issue number13
Early online date19 Apr 2023
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors wish to thank Oliver Hoggs (Cefas) for collating the environmental datasets, Chris D. Jones (MET Office) for providing the UKESM1 climate data and Sally Wood (University of Bristol) for providing the reef connectivity data. The research idea first originated during EC's doctoral thesis and she acknowledges the contribution of her former PhD supervisors Erica Hendy (University of Bristol) and Andy Ridgwell (University of California, Riverside). The manuscript benefitted from feedback from John Pinnegar (Cefas) and from two anonymous reviewers. This work was funded by Cefas Seedcorn Projects DP418 ‘Quantitative Ecology’ and DP441D ‘Coral Reefs: Ecosystems in Transition’.

Funding Information:
The authors wish to thank Oliver Hoggs (Cefas) for collating the environmental datasets, Chris D. Jones (MET Office) for providing the UKESM1 climate data and Sally Wood (University of Bristol) for providing the reef connectivity data. The research idea first originated during EC's doctoral thesis and she acknowledges the contribution of her former PhD supervisors Erica Hendy (University of Bristol) and Andy Ridgwell (University of California, Riverside). The manuscript benefitted from feedback from John Pinnegar (Cefas) and from two anonymous reviewers. This work was funded by Cefas Seedcorn Projects DP418 ‘Quantitative Ecology’ and DP441D ‘Coral Reefs: Ecosystems in Transition’.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 Crown copyright. Global Change Biology published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd. This article is published with the permission of the Controller of HMSO and the King's Printer for Scotland.

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