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Porites coral response to an oceanographic and human impact gradient in the Line Islands
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    Limnology and Oceanography, 62(6), 2850-2863.
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  • Description:
    Coral bleaching caused by heat stress (warm water) will arguably be the greatest driver of coral reef loss in the coming decades. Understanding how corals have adapted to distinct oceanographic regimes on multiple scales can provide insight into future tolerance and persistence, information critical to directed intervention or targeted protections. The northern Line Islands span a gradient in oceanographic regimes across latitudes, with seawater becoming warmer, fresher, more oligotrophic, and more saturated with aragonite away from the equator. The combination of this regional gradient and island-scale (local) conditions was used as a natural experiment against which to test how massive Porites corals respond to these background conditions and episodic heat stress. We found that coral condition, represented by a metric combining tissue thickness, lipids, and calcification, was similar at almost all islands, though there were differences in how corals allocate resources among these biological parameters. Corals at Teraina, the most densely inhabited island, showed evidence for reduced calcification, potentially associated with human impacts and/or outflow of freshwater from the island. In contrast, Porites corals at Palmyra, a wildlife reserve, exhibited unexpectedly high tissue-condition metrics for its latitude, suggesting an additional food source, possibly plankton-rich lagoonal outflow. We did not find a strong relationship between human habitation and the response of Porites corals to recent heat stress. However, differences in coral calcification rates and energy stores between observed values and those expected based solely on the regional oceanographic gradient, suggests local effects have indirect impacts on these corals.

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