Why the existence of ‘heat tolerant’ corals does not mean that coral reefs will be able to resist climate change.

4 thoughts on “Why the existence of ‘heat tolerant’ corals does not mean that coral reefs will be able to resist climate change.”

  1. i agree ove, it looks like the authors have stretched just a little too far.

    how is ‘swapped out’ defined? i thought that ‘exogenous acquisition’ of entirely ‘new’ symbionts was still to be proven? if so, this means that the corals that don’t contain ‘heat sensitive’ algae are selectively weeded out under warming seas? what proportion of corals contain ‘heat sensitive’ algae?


  2. Agreed. Encouraging results, but I doubt that many would have suggested that corals will never adapt to higher temperatures, but I think the important message is (from the press release) “It comes down to a calculation of the rates of environmental change versus the rates of adaptation” which it always has.

    “Remember” the Permian-Triassic event 250mya – the largest extinction event ever known killed off 96% of all marine and 70% terrestrial species, but took hundreds of thousands years to do so – quite a lot longer than the entirety of human history! The scales are hard to conceptualise, but current human activity is probably resulting in one of the fastest ever mass extinctions.

    It is unlikely that coral reefs will become completely extinct, but it is also looking increasingly unlikely that they will persist as viable, productive ecosystems of the next few hundred years without huge changes in human behaviour.


  3. Ove: Have you had this conversation (blog) with Steve or Tom directly? I too am not a fan of the current tendency for press-release science. Stephen


  4. Good point Stephen. I am also not a fan of press release science as you probably know. Reducing science to flashy sound bites can quickly lead to mythologies and misunderstandings. This can have important ramifications. I was just told by someone who visited Capitol Hill recently that there are a number of senators who now think that coral reefs will survive climate change. They cited the Oliver and Palumbi paper.


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