Unusually high coral recruitment during the 2016 El Nino in Mo'orea, French Polynesia.


Edmunds, P. J.


PLoS One


The negative implications of the thermal sensitivity of reef corals became clear with coral bleaching throughout the Caribbean in the 1980’s, and later globally, with the severe El Niño of 1998 and extensive seawater warming in 2005. These events have substantially contributed to declines in coral cover, and therefore the El Niño of 2016 raised concerns over the implications for coral reefs; on the Great Barrier Reef these concerns have been realized. A different outcome developed in Mo’orea, French Polynesia, where in situ seawater temperature from 15 March 2016 to 15 April 2016 was an average of 0.4°C above the upper 95% CI of the decadal mean temperature, and the NOAA Degree Heating Weeks (DHW) metric supported a Level 1 bleaching alert (DHW ≥ 4.0). Starting 1 September 2016 and for the rest of the year (122 d), in situ seawater temperature was an average of 0.4°C above the 95% CI of long-term values, although DHW remained at zero. Minor coral bleaching (0.2–2.6% of the coral) occurred on the outer reef (10-m and 17-m depth) in April 2016, by May 2016 it had intensified to affect 1.3–16.8% of the coral, but by August 2016, only 1.4–3.0% of the coral was bleached. Relative to the previous decade, recruitment of scleractinians to settlement tiles on the outer- (10 m) and back- (2 m) reef over 2016/17 was high, both from January 2016 to August 2016, and from August 2016 to January 2017, with increased relative abundances of pocilloporids on the outer reef, and acroporids in the back reef. The 2016 El Niño created a distinctive signature in seawater temperature for Mo’orea, but it did not cause widespread coral bleaching or mortality, rather, it was associated with high coral recruitment. While the 2016 El Niño has negatively affected other coral reefs in the Indo-Pacific, the coral communities of Mo’orea continue to show signs of resilience, thus cautioning against general statements regarding the effects of the 2015/16 El Niño on coral reefs in the region.







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