To move or to stay: optimal range modification strategy under climate change is taxon-specific for corals

Mr Sun Kim1,2, Dr. Brigitte Sommer2,3, Prof. John Pandolfi1,2

1Australian Research Council Centre Of Excellence For Coral Reef Studies, The University Of Queensland, St.Lucia, Australia, 2School of Biological Sciences, The University of Queensland, St.Lucia, Australia, 3School of Life and Environmental Sciences, The University of Sydney, Australia

Climate change is expected to reduce habitability of current ecosystems for many species, and to cause significant shifts in species abundance across space. While some taxa may track optimal environmental conditions, others that are unable to track climate velocity, or evolve their environmental niches are likely to suffer substantial population declines, and few with broad environmental tolerance may benefit from changes in the abundance of other taxa and community composition. An understanding of current species abundance patterns across ranges of environmental conditions that form their environmental niches is fundamental to predicting species range dynamics under climate change. Here we project changes in environmental suitability of current habitats for Scleractinian corals in eastern Australia using a range of climate change scenarios. We show that an increase in sea surface temperature will render current locations less suitable for many species (tropical – 85%, subtropical – 63%, cosmopolitan – 93%). These species will need to track their environmental niches to maintain populations. In contrast, fewer taxa (tropical – 10%, subtropical – 25%, cosmopolitan – 0%) will experience improvements in environmental suitability with an increase in sea surface temperature. These species may benefit from additional physical space vacated by taxa tracking their environmental niches or locally extirpated species, but will likely experience new biotic interactions.


Sun Kim is a PhD student in the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and School of Biological Sciences at The University of Queensland. He is interested in biogeography of marine organisms, particularly how climate change is altering our current knowledge about marine biogeography.

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