Document Type


Publication Date


Publication Title

NSF U.S. Investigator Workshop on Coral Bleaching




[First Paragraph]

Coral reefs throughout the world are facing the consequences of large-scale changes in Earth’s climate. In particular, ocean warming is leading to frequent coral bleaching, which is threatening the long-term stability of coral reefs. Coral bleaching is a stress response that results in the disassociation of the mutualistic symbioses (i.e., dysbiosis) between corals and their endosymbiotic algae (Symbiodinium spp.). In the past two decades, there have been four substantial bleaching events, which have affected large geographic areas across the globe, including the worst recorded bleaching event on the Great Barrier Reef in 2016 (Berkelmans et al. 2004; Eakin et al. 2010; Stella et al. 2016). These large-scale bleaching events, in combination with many local-scale stressors, have contributed substantially to global declines in coral populations. In addition, bleaching may lead to compromised coral immunity, possibly resulting in additional mortality by a range of post-bleaching diseases (Maynard et al. 2015, Randall et al. 2014). Given their link to patterns of global-climate change and projections of increased warming in the coming decades, mass coral bleaching events are a key concern. In addition, current climate projections estimate that global bleaching is expected to occur annually by late this century, with more than 90% of reefs facing long-term degradation (Frieler et al. 2012). Furthermore, in locations such as the Caribbean, frequent thermal anomalies and consecutive annual bleaching events are expected to be common in less than 25 years (van Hooidonk et al. 2015). In fact, large-scale bleaching two years in a row was documented for the first time in 2014-2015 in Hawaii and in the Florida Keys. However, not all corals (and other symbiotic cnidarians) are equally susceptible to thermal stress, and some corals have been shown to recover from bleaching more quickly than others. Likewise, not all reefs are equally susceptible, and depending on local conditions, susceptibility can vary from one event to the next. Such variability in resilience could be a cornerstone to reef persistence over the coming century. However, the research needed to test this hypothesis remains to be performed.


National Science Foundation requires Open Access Archiving

Original Publication Citation

Warner, M. E., Barshis, D. J., Davies, S., Grottoli, A. G., LaJeunesse, T. C., & Woesik, R. V. (2017). Investigating coral bleaching in a changing climate: Our state of understanding and opportunities to push the field forward. Report of the NSF U.S. Investigator Workshop on Coral Bleaching, 17-18, 2016. Hawaii Prince Hotel, Honolulu, HI, 26 pp.