Thermal stress and tropical reefs: mass coral bleaching in a stable temperature environment?
This study reports on the deepest records (~ 24 m depth) of coral bleaching in a naturally temperature-stable environment (> 26 °C with an intra-annual variability of ~ 2 °C), which was recorded during a mass bleaching event in the locally dominant, massive scleractinian coral Siderastrea stellata in equatorial waters of Brazil (SW Atlantic). An inter-annual analysis (2002–2017) indicated that this bleaching event was related to anomalies in sea surface temperature (SST) that led to the warmest year (2010) in this century (1 to 1.7 °C above average). Such anomalies caused heat stress (28.5–29.5 °C) in this equatorial environment that resulted in a bleaching event. Our results suggest that the increase in SST, low turbidity, and weak winds may have acted together to affect these stress-tolerant corals in marginal reefs. The equatorial coastline of Brazil is characterized by low intra-annual and inter-annual variations in SST, which suggests that the S. stellata corals here may be acclimatized to these stable conditions and, consequently, have a lower bleaching threshold because of lower historical heat stress.