Coral-bleaching responses to climate change across biological scales

Robert van Woesik, Tom Shlesinger, Andréa G. Grottoli, Rob J. Toonen, Rebecca Vega Thurber, Mark E. Warner, Ann Marie Hulver, Leila Chapron, Rowan H. McLachlan, Rebecca Albright, Eric Crandall, Thomas M. DeCarlo, Mary K. Donovan, Jose Eirin-Lopez, Hugo B. Harrison, Scott F. Heron, Danwei Huang, Adriana Humanes, Thomas Krueger, Joshua S. MadinDerek Manzello, Lisa C. McManus, Mikhail Matz, Erinn M. Muller, Mauricio Rodriguez-Lanetty, Maria Vega-Rodriguez, Christian R. Voolstra, Jesse Zaneveld

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The global impacts of climate change are evident in every marine ecosystem. On coral reefs, mass coral bleaching and mortality have emerged as ubiquitous responses to ocean warming, yet one of the greatest challenges of this epiphenomenon is linking information across scientific disciplines and spatial and temporal scales. Here we review some of the seminal and recent coral-bleaching discoveries from an ecological, physiological, and molecular perspective. We also evaluate which data and processes can improve predictive models and provide a conceptual framework that integrates measurements across biological scales. Taking an integrative approach across biological and spatial scales, using for example hierarchical models to estimate major coral-reef processes, will not only rapidly advance coral-reef science but will also provide necessary information to guide decision-making and conservation efforts. To conserve reefs, we encourage implementing mesoscale sanctuaries (thousands of km2) that transcend national boundaries. Such networks of protected reefs will provide reef connectivity, through larval dispersal that transverse thermal environments, and genotypic repositories that may become essential units of selection for environmentally diverse locations. Together, multinational networks may be the best chance corals have to persist through climate change, while humanity struggles to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases to net zero.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4229-4250
Number of pages22
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Issue number14
StatePublished - Jul 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • climate change
  • conservation
  • coral bleaching
  • coral reefs
  • corals
  • global warming
  • mesoscale sanctuaries
  • networks
  • protected reefs
  • refugia
  • thermal stress

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Environmental Science
  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Ecology
  • Environmental Chemistry


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