Hosts of the plio-pleistocene past reflect modern-day coral vulnerability

Robert van Woesik, Erik C. Franklin, Jennifer O’Leary, Tim R. McClanahan, James S. Klaus, Ann F. Budd

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Scopus citations


The risk of global extinction of reef-building coral species is increasing.We evaluated extinction risk using a biological trait-based resiliency index that was compared with Caribbean extinction during the Plio-Pleistocene, andwith extinction risk determined by the International Union forConservation ofNature (IUCN).Through the Plio-Pleistocene, the Caribbean supported more diverse coral assemblages than today and shared considerable overlap with contemporary Indo-Pacific reefs. A clear association was found between extant Plio- Pleistocene coral genera and our positive resilience scores. Regional extinction in the past and vulnerability in the present suggests that Pocillopora, Stylophora and foliose Pavona are among the most susceptible taxa to local and regional isolation. These same taxawere among themost abundant corals in theCaribbean Pliocene. Therefore, awidespread distribution did not equatewith immunity to regional extinction. The strong relationship between past and present vulnerability suggests that regional extinction events are trait-based and not merely random episodes. We found several inconsistencies between our data and the IUCN scores, which suggest a need to critically re-examine what constitutes coral vulnerability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2448-2456
Number of pages9
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1737
StatePublished - Jun 22 2012


  • Biological trait
  • Coral
  • Extinction risk
  • Plio-Pleistocene
  • Resilience
  • Vulnerability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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