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Local Conditions Magnify Coral Loss After Marine Heatwaves

May 28, 2021

Using a global analysis of 223 sites, we show that local stressors paired with climate change kills corals. We offer the optimistic premise that effective local management, alongside global efforts to mitigate climate change, can help coral reefs.

Climate change threatens coral reefs by causing heat stress events that lead to widespread coral bleaching and mortality. Given the global nature of these mass coral mortality events, recent studies argue that mitigating climate change is the only path to conserve coral reefs. Using a global analysis of 223 sites, we show that local stressors act synergistically with climate change to kill corals. Local factors such as high abundance of macroalgae or urchins magnified coral loss in the year after bleaching. Notably, the combined effects of increasing heat stress and macroalgae intensified coral loss. Our results offer an optimistic premise that effective local management, alongside global efforts to mitigate climate change, can help coral reefs survive the Anthropocene.


Donovan MK, Burkepile DE, Kratochwill C, Shlesinger T, Sully S, Oliver TA, Hodgson G, Freiwald J, van Woesik R. 2021. Local conditions magnify coral loss after marine heatwaves. Science. 372(6545):977-80.  https://doi.org/10.1126/science.abd9464.    

Last updated by Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center on 11/23/2021

Coral Reefs Coral Reef Monitoring