Marine and Freshwater Research Marine and Freshwater Research Society
Advances in the aquatic sciences
RESEARCH ARTICLE (Open Access)

Climate change impedes scleractinian corals as primary reef ecosystem engineers

Christian Wild A L , Ove Hoegh-Guldberg B , Malik S. Naumann C , M. Florencia Colombo-Pallotta D , Mebrahtu Ateweberhan E F , William K. Fitt G , Roberto Iglesias-Prieto D , Caroline Palmer H I , John C. Bythell H , Juan-Carlos Ortiz B , Yossi Loya J and Robert van Woesik K

A Coral Reef Ecology Group (CORE), Leibniz Center for Tropical Marine Ecology (ZMT) and University of Bremen, Fahrenheitstr. 6, 28359 Bremen, Germany.

B Global Change Institute, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Qld 4072, Australia.

C Centre Scientifique de Monaco, Avenue Saint-Martin, 98000 Monaco, Principality of Monaco.

D Reef Systems Unit, Instituto de Ciencias del Mar y Limnología, UNAM, Puerto Morelos, México.

E Coral Reef Conservation Project, Mombasa, Kenya.

F Department of Biological Sciences, University of Warwick, CV4 7AL, Coventry, United Kingdom.

G Odum School of Ecology, University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602, USA.

H School of Biology, Newcastle University, Newcastle Upon Tyne, United Kingdom.

I ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and School of Marine and Tropical Biology, James Cook University, Townsville, Qld 4811, Australia.

J Zoology Department, Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv, Israel.

K Department of Biological Sciences, Florida Institute of Technology, Melbourne, FL 32901, USA.

L Corresponding author. Email: christian.wild@zmt-bremen.de

Marine and Freshwater Research 62(2) 205-215 https://doi.org/10.1071/MF10254
Submitted: 13 October 2010  Accepted: 14 January 2011   Published: 24 February 2011

Abstract

Coral reefs are among the most diverse and productive ecosystems on our planet. Scleractinian corals function as the primary reef ecosystem engineers, constructing the framework that serves as a habitat for all other coral reef-associated organisms. However, the coral’s engineering role is particularly susceptible to global climate change. Ocean warming can cause extensive mass coral bleaching, which triggers dysfunction of major engineering processes. Sub-lethal bleaching results in the reduction of both primary productivity and coral calcification. This may lead to changes in the release of organic and inorganic products, thereby altering critical biogeochemical and recycling processes in reef ecosystems. Thermal stress-induced bleaching and subsequent coral mortality, along with ocean acidification, further lead to long-term shifts in benthic community structure, changes in topographic reef complexity, and the modification of reef functioning. Such shifts may cause negative feedback loops and further modification of coral-derived inorganic and organic products. This review emphasises the critical role of scleractinian corals as reef ecosystem engineers and highlights the control of corals over key reef ecosystem goods and services, including high biodiversity, coastal protection, fishing, and tourism. Thus, climate change by impeding coral ecosystem engineers will impair the ecosystem functioning of entire reefs.

Additional keywords: bleaching, ecosystem goods and services, ocean warming and acidification.


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