Warming resistant corals from the Gulf of Aqaba live close to their cold-water bleaching threshold

Jessica Bellworthy*, Maoz Fine

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Global climate change is causing increasing variability and extremes in weather worldwide, a trend set to continue. In recent decades both anomalously warm and cold seawater temperatures have resulted in mass coral bleaching events. Whilst corals’ response to elevated temperature has justifiably attracted substantial research interest, coral physiology under cold water stress is relatively unfamiliar. The response to below typical winter water temperature was tested for two common reef building species from the Gulf of Aqaba in an ex situ experiment. Stylophora pistillata and Acropora eurystoma were exposed to 1 or 3 C below average winter temperature and a suite of physiological parameters were assessed. At 3 C below winter minima (ca. 18.6 C), both species had significant declines in photosynthetic indices (maximum quantum yield, electron transport rate, saturation irradiance, and photochemical efficiency) and chlorophyll concentration compared to corals at ambient winter temperatures. It was previously unknown that corals at this site live close to their cold-water bleaching threshold and may be vulnerable as climate variability increases in magnitude. In order to determine if a cold winter reduces the known heat resistance of this population, the corals were subsequently exposed to an acute warm period at 30 C the following summer. Exposed to above typical summer temperatures, both species showed fewer physiological deviations compared to the cold-water stress. Therefore, the cold winter experience did not increase corals’ susceptibility to above ambient summer temperatures. This study provides further support for the selection of heat tolerant genotypes colonising the Red Sea basin and thereby support the mechanism behind the Reef Refuge Hypothesis.

Original languageAmerican English
Article numbere11100
StatePublished - 25 Mar 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright 2021 Bellworthy and Fine.


  • Acropora eurystoma
  • Coral physiology
  • Photosynthesis
  • Red sea
  • Stylophora pistillata
  • Symbiont


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