Evolution and connectivity influence the persistence and recovery of coral reefs under climate change in the Caribbean, Southwest Pacific, and Coral Triangle

Lisa C. McManus, Daniel L. Forrest, Edward W. Tekwa, Daniel E. Schindler, Madhavi A. Colton, Michael M. Webster, Timothy E. Essington, Stephen R. Palumbi, Peter J. Mumby, Malin L. Pinsky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Corals are experiencing unprecedented decline from climate change-induced mass bleaching events. Dispersal not only contributes to coral reef persistence through demographic rescue but can also hinder or facilitate evolutionary adaptation. Locations of reefs that are likely to survive future warming therefore remain largely unknown, particularly within the context of both ecological and evolutionary processes across complex seascapes that differ in temperature range, strength of connectivity, network size, and other characteristics. Here, we used eco-evolutionary simulations to examine coral adaptation to warming across reef networks in the Caribbean, the Southwest Pacific, and the Coral Triangle. We assessed the factors associated with coral persistence in multiple reef systems to understand which results are general and which are sensitive to particular geographic contexts. We found that evolution can be critical in preventing extinction and facilitating the long-term recovery of coral communities in all regions. Furthermore, the strength of immigration to a reef (destination strength) and current sea surface temperature robustly predicted reef persistence across all reef networks and across temperature projections. However, we found higher initial coral cover, slower recovery, and more evolutionary lag in the Coral Triangle, which has a greater number of reefs and more larval settlement than the other regions. We also found the lowest projected future coral cover in the Caribbean. These findings suggest that coral reef persistence depends on ecology, evolution, and habitat network characteristics, and that, under an emissions stabilization scenario (RCP 4.5), recovery may be possible over multiple centuries.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4307-4321
Number of pages15
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Issue number18
StatePublished - Sep 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Ecology
  • Environmental Science(all)


  • Caribbean
  • Coral Triangle
  • Southwest Pacific
  • climate change
  • coral
  • eco-evolutionary dynamics
  • metacommunity
  • modeling


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