Document Type


Publication Date




Publication Title

Coral Reefs






Global warming is causing an unprecedented loss of species and habitats worldwide. This is particularly apparent for tropical coral reefs, with an increasing number of reefs experiencing mass bleaching and mortality on an annual basis. As such, there is a growing need for a standardized experimental approach to rapidly assess the thermal limits of corals and predict the survival of coral species across reefs and regions. Using a portable experimental system, the Coral Bleaching Automated Stress System (CBASS), we conducted standardized 18 h acute thermal stress assays to quantitively determine the upper thermal limits of four coral species across the length of the Red Sea coastline, from the Gulf of Aqaba (GoA) to Djibouti (~ 2100 km). We measured dark-acclimated photosynthetic efficiency (Fv/Fm), algal symbiont density, chlorophyll a, and visual bleaching intensity following heat stress. Fv/Fm was the most precise response variable assessed, advancing the Fv/Fm effective dose 50 (ED50, i.e., the temperature at which 50% of the initial Fv/Fm is measured) as an empirically derived proxy for thermal tolerance. ED50 thermal thresholds from the central/southern Red Sea and Djibouti populations were consistently higher for Acropora hemprichii, Pocillopora verrucosa, and Stylophora pistillata (0.1–1.8 °C above GoA corals, respectively), in line with prevailing warmer maximum monthly means (MMMs), though were lower than GoA corals relative to site MMMs (1.5–3.0 °C). P. verrucosa had the lowest thresholds overall. Despite coming from the hottest site, thresholds were lowest for Porites lobata in the southern Red Sea, suggesting long-term physiological damage or ongoing recovery from a severe, prior bleaching event. Altogether, the CBASS resolved historical, taxonomic, and possibly recent environmental drivers of variation in coral thermal thresholds, highlighting the potential for a standardized, short-term thermal assay as a universal approach for assessing ecological and evolutionary variation in the upper thermal limits of corals.


This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0), which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder.

© The Author(s) 2022

Data Availability

Article states: "All code and data used in the statistical analyses are available in the Supplementary Material and the electronic notebook associated with this publication on the Barshis Lab GitHub:"

"The online version contains supplementary material available at"

Original Publication Citation

Evensen, N. R., Voolstra, C. R., Fine, M., Perna, G., Buitrago-López, C., Cárdenas, A., Banc-Prandi, G., Rowe, K., & Barshis, D. J. (2022). Empirically derived thermal thresholds of four coral species along the Red Sea using a portable and standardized experimental approach. Coral Reefs, 41, 239-252.


0000-0003-3318-5593 (Evensen), 0000-0003-1510-8375 (Barshis)


Article Location