PerspectiveOcean Biology

Corals' microbial sentinels

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Science  24 Jun 2016:
Vol. 352, Issue 6293, pp. 1518-1519
DOI: 10.1126/science.aad9957

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Summary

In 2005, Pandolfi et al. (1) asked whether U.S. coral reefs would in the future be overgrown and dominated by algae as a result of rapid change in the marine environment. Over a decade later, an increasing number of reefs worldwide have declined, and severe and lasting environmental changes are altering the composition of coral reefs that were once pristine and resilient. In the past 2 years, many reefs around the world have suffered from repeated bleaching (see the photo) as a result of high water temperatures caused by a strong El Niño event combined with climate change. Corals that survive the multiple impacts of climate change and local disturbance will form the basis of future reefs that will differ in fundamental ways from those considered healthy today (2). Changes to the coral microbiome on these reefs will play a vital part in future coral reef health (see the figure).