Shallow water reef corals deposit calcium carbonate skeletons that collectively form massive three-dimensional structures known as coral reefs. A huge number of plants and animals call these structures home, and these tropical marine ecosystems make a significant contribution to the economies of many nations through tourism, fishing and coastline protection. Over the past half century, climatic conditions, pollution and over fishing have severely damaged the integrity of many coral reefs across the globe and pessimists believe that these ecosystems could disappear completely in the next 100 years. Evidence from present-day and fossil reef communities, however, suggests that some corals and reef communities persist and even thrive in environmental conditions that cause others to die. Yet the factors that make a given coral or coral reef community resistant or sensitive to stress, or better or less able to recover from disturbance, are not well understood. Our working group brings together scientists from the United States, Australia, Taiwan, France, and Kenya to: 1) synthesize data and identify coral species that are better able to withstand or recover from stress and define the organismic and genetic traits that characterize these species, and 2) identify coral communities and the physical features of their habitats that are associated with resistance to disturbance. We will use this information to forecast the structure, function and ecosystem services of reef communities in a future strongly influenced by climate change (warming and ocean acidification).
Fringing reefs such as this one in Moorea, French Polynesia (photographed in April 2010), represent one of the most diverse ecosystems on our planet. Human and natural disturbances over the last few decades, including the effects of climate change, may push them to extinction. This workshop seeks to determine whether an alternative outcome might exist, at least for a period of time, in which dramatically different reefs are ecologically dominated by a subset of corals that are resistant to environmental assault.