Coral reefs are some of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet and provide vital services such as food production and tourism. Reefs consist of coral animals that provide structure and algae that provide food. When experiencing stressful conditions, corals can lose their symbiotic algae, or bleach; bleaching can be fatal if the stress is extreme or prolonged. Global climate change threatens coral reefs through mass coral bleaching events associated with extreme temperatures. However, corals and their symbiotic algae may have the potential to respond to climate change through physiological acclimation, increased presence of more stress-tolerant coral and algal species, and genetic adaptation.
Using mathematical models and computer simulations, this project will:1. explore the potential for coral reefs to respond to a rapidly changing climate
2. compare potential indicators of corals' capacity to survive climate change, and
3. investigate the effect of additional human impacts on coral reef ecosystems (e.g., fishing) on potential coral response to climate change
These models will further the scientific understanding of the interaction between ecological processes, such as changes in the species present, and rapid evolutionary processes, such as genetic adaptation to increased temperature stress. In addition, these models will aid conservation management decisions such as determining which coral reefs should be protected given future climate change scenarios.