Extending the natural adaptive capacity of coral holobionts

Anthropogenic climate change and environmental degradation destroy coral reefs, the ecosystem services they provide, and the livelihoods of close to a billion people who depend on these services. Restoration approaches to increase the resilience of corals are therefore necessary to counter environmental pressures relevant to climate change projections. In this Review, we examine the natural processes that can increase the adaptive capacity of coral holobionts, with the aim of preserving ecosystem functioning under future ocean conditions. Current approaches that centre around restoring reef cover can be integrated with emerging approaches to enhance coral stress resilience and, thereby, allow reefs to regrow under a new set of environmental conditions. Emerging approaches such as standardized acute thermal stress assays, selective sexual propagation, coral probiotics, and environmental hardening could be feasible and scalable in the real world. However, they must follow decision-making criteria that consider the different reef, environmental, and ecological conditions. The implementation of adaptive interventions tailored around nature-based solutions will require standardized frameworks, appropriate ecological risk–benefit assessments, and analytical routines for consistent and effective utilization and global coordination.

Voolstra, C. R., Suggett, D. J., Peixoto, R. S., Parkinson, J. E., Quigley, K. M., Silveira, C. B., … Aranda, M. (2021). Extending the natural adaptive capacity of coral holobionts. Nature Reviews Earth & Environment. doi:10.1038/s43017-021-00214-3

C.R.V. acknowledges funding from the German Research Foundation (DFG) (grants 433042944 and 458901010). R.S.P. acknowledges funding from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (grant FCC/1/1973-51-01). J.E.P. acknowledges funding from the University of South Florida Research & Innovation Internal Awards Program (grant 0142687). K.M.Q. acknowledges funding from the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS). E.M.M. was supported by the Mote Eminent Scholarship and the National Science Foundation (NSF) (OCE-1452538). M.A. acknowledges funding from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (grant FCC/1/1973-36-01).

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