Coral reef eco-evolutionary dynamics: Adaptation and connectivity in MPA networks under future climate change

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Presented by: Helen Fox of Coral Reef Alliance, Lisa McManus of University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, and Lukas DeFilippo of University of Washington School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences and NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center

Description: While coral reefs face mounting threats, many coral populations are already well adapted to conditions unfavorable to the average coral (e.g., high temperatures, low pH, poor water quality). With the goal of better understanding the drivers of persistence and adaptive capacity and the role of management and MPAs, we developed a general eco-evolutionary framework to explore the influence of network structure and spatial management on a metapopulation’s adaptive response to temperature increase. This framework was applied to coral populations in the Caribbean, Southwest Pacific, and Coral Triangle to determine the characteristics of individual reefs that lead to persistence or decline under climate scenarios and test the efficacy of spatial management strategies (MPAs) in these three regions. We also used eco-evolutionary simulations to explore scenarios of coral propagation, transplantation, and assisted evolution and identified potential benefits and risks of these interventions. We find that corals’ vulnerability to climate change depends strongly on assumptions of their standing genetic variation, which determines the potential for an evolutionary response. One implication of this work is that MPA networks can promote persistence by protecting coral populations adapted to diverse environments so that corals with evolutionarily favored traits reproduce and spread throughout reef networks.

Co-sponsors: NOAA National MPA Center and OCTO (MPA News, OpenChannels, EBM Tools Network)