Severe 2010 cold-water event caused unprecedented mortality to corals of the Florida reef tract and reversed previous survivorship patterns

Diego Lirman, Stephanie Schopmeyer, Derek Manzello, Lewis J. Gramer, William F. Precht, Frank Muller-Karger, Kenneth Banks, Brian Barnes, Erich Bartels, Amanda Bourque, James Byrne, Scott Donahue, Janice Duquesnel, Louis Fisher, David Gilliam, James Hendee, Meaghan Johnson, Kerry Maxwell, Erin McDevitt, Jamie MontyDigna Rueda, Rob Ruzicka, Sara Thanner

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135 Scopus citations


Background: Coral reefs are facing increasing pressure from natural and anthropogenic stressors that have already caused significant worldwide declines. In January 2010, coral reefs of Florida, United States, were impacted by an extreme cold-water anomaly that exposed corals to temperatures well below their reported thresholds (16°C), causing rapid coral mortality unprecedented in spatial extent and severity. Methodology/Principal Findings: Reef surveys were conducted from Martin County to the Lower Florida Keys within weeks of the anomaly. The impacts recorded were catastrophic and exceeded those of any previous disturbances in the region. Coral mortality patterns were directly correlated to in-situ and satellite-derived cold-temperature metrics. These impacts rival, in spatial extent and intensity, the impacts of the well-publicized warm-water bleaching events around the globe. The mean percent coral mortality recorded for all species and subregions was 11.5% in the 2010 winter, compared to 0.5% recorded in the previous five summers, including years like 2005 where warm-water bleaching was prevalent. Highest mean mortality (15%-39%) was documented for inshore habitats where temperatures were <11°C for prolonged periods. Increases in mortality from previous years were significant for 21 of 25 coral species, and were 1-2 orders of magnitude higher for most species. Conclusions/Significance: The cold-water anomaly of January 2010 caused the worst coral mortality on record for the Florida Reef Tract, highlighting the potential catastrophic impacts that unusual but extreme climatic events can have on the persistence of coral reefs. Moreover, habitats and species most severely affected were those found in high-coral cover, inshore, shallow reef habitats previously considered the "oases" of the region, having escaped declining patterns observed for more offshore habitats. Thus, the 2010 cold-water anomaly not only caused widespread coral mortality but also reversed prior resistance and resilience patterns that will take decades to recover.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere23047
JournalPloS one
Issue number8
StatePublished - 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • General


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