Resilience and Acclimatization Potential of Reef Corals Under Predicted Global Climate Change Stressors

EPA Grant Number: FP917199
Title: Resilience and Acclimatization Potential of Reef Corals Under Predicted Global Climate Change Stressors
Investigators: Putnam, Hollie M.
Institution: University of Hawaii at Manoa
EPA Project Officer: Just, Theodore J.
Project Period: August 1, 2010 through July 31, 2013
Project Amount: $111,000
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2010) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Academic Fellowships , Fellowship - Global Change


Anthropogenic impacts on coral reefs have already resulted in a decline in coral health and abundance across coastal oceans, and coral reefs are predicted to undergo severe ecosystem loss and potentially even extinction under the impacts of future global climate change (GCC) stressors. My research seeks to understand potential mechanisms, outcomes, and consequences of coral acclimatization potential in the face of GCC stressors, both across coral generations and with respect to reproductive mode.


Changing global climate is predicted to have dire consequences for coral reef ecosystems. Specifically, increases in temperature and ocean acidification are damaging coral health through bleaching and decreased growth of the coral skeleton. In an effort to protect valuable reef ecosystems, this research will examine the response of corals to global change stressors, thereby providing essential data with which to more fully understand and predict the persistence of coral reefs into the future.


Reproductively viable reef building corals (Pocillipora damicornis and Montipora capitata) will be experimentally exposed to the GCC stressors of temperature and ocean acidification and the biological impacts of the exposures evaluated. Specifically, corals will be exposed to three different temperatures and CO2 levels simulating current and future environmental parameters, and will subsequently be assessed for reproductive output, calcification, protein turnover, and changes in gene expression. Additionally, the offspring of the exposed corals will be challenged again with these stressors to determine the potential for acclimatization across generations.

Expected Results:

The expected outcomes of this research include 1) a greater knowledge of key processes in coral biology such as metabolism, reproduction, and biomineralization; 2) a molecular and physiological toolkit for reef managers to detect the early warning signs and phenotypic manifestations of decline in fitness parameters; and 3) data on the effects of coral response and acclimatization potential to GCC for use in predictive models of coral reef population viability in the future. Overall, this research will contribute to our understanding of the sensitivity and resilience of coral reefs to anthropogenic impacts occurring at the global scale.

Potential to Further Environmental/Human Health Protection:

My research will assist our understanding of the resilience of coral populations in the future, thereby identifying reef areas or coral types that should be targeted for protection. In addition, this research will aid in our quantification of detrimental levels of GCC stressors, informing policy makers on global anthropogenic-induced stress tolerance limits in reef-building corals (e.g., detrimental levels of seawater temperature and CO2 concentrations).

Supplemental Keywords:

coral, climate change, ocean acidification, acclimatization, resilience, temperature, bleaching, CO2, Pocillopora damicornis, Montipora capitata,