Coral biogeography and larval ecology in a warming ocean.
Temperature is a major contributor to geographical ranges of marine species and warming seas are already contributing to pole-ward range extensions of many marine invertebrates. For corals, range shift in response to temperature change, i.e. climate tracking, is a potential result of contemporary warming and may be an important mechanism for persistence of reefs over geological time. The effects of climate change are expected to vary with location and the southern Great Barrier Reef (GBR) is warming at a greater rate than northern regions. Counter-intuitively, these “reefs on the edge” may be under greater threat from
temperature-related stressors than northern reefs despite a historically cooler
regime. Such regions may also be particularly informative when forming
temperature-related projections on reef futures. The proposed research will
compare thermo-tolerance of early life stages between three thermally distinct
regions, Lizard Island, One Tree Island and Lord Howe Island, to investigate
potential opportunities for range expansion in coral reefs. Species-specific data
on coral life history characteristics will also be compiled to explore how certain
traits influence coral biogeography, in particular, the prominent decline in
species richness with increasing latitude. Results of this study will be used to
predict future distributions of corals under changing temperature regimes.