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Effects of elevated seawater temperature show high spatial heterogeneity and variation within and among coral species.

The objective of this study was to investigate how two coral species, Porites lutea and Galaxea fascicularis, from two high latitude reefs differently exposed to chronic disturbance, respond to elevated seawater temperatures.

Corals were collected from reefs nearshore (i.e. subjected to high sediment load, higher chlorophyll ? concentrations, turbidity etc.) and offshore (i.e. less exposed). The corals were exposed in the lab to gradually increasing temperatures (25.5-33.5 °C) for 72 h after which they were allowed to recover to ambient temperature (25.5 °C) for 24 h. Production and respiration were measured after 24, 48, 72 and 96 h.

The results show that P. lutea from nearshore reefs suffered an initial decrease in gross primary production/respiration (GP/R) ratio after 24 h, after only a moderate temperature increase (+2 °C, from 25.5 to 27.5 °C), while there was no difference in GP/R ratio between heat-exposed and controls the other days, indicating that the chronic disturbance in the nearshore reef had no effect on their thermotolerance.

Furthermore, P. lutea from the offshore reef showed a decrease in GP/R ratio both after 24 h and 72 h (33.5 °C) of exposure. In comparison, G. fascicularis showed a decrease in GP/R ratio after 48 h, 72 h and 96 h of exposure for the nearshore corals. Also, after 72 h these corals had withdrawn their polyps.

There were no differences between heat-treated and controls for the offshore G. fascicularis. This implies that the chronically disturbed G. fascicularis had lower thermotolerance when exposed to a temperature increase.

This study, hence, shows that the response of corals to elevated seawater temperature varies with species and environmental background history.

Sturle Hauge Simonsen
Date: 2012-01-17