Life after cold death: Reef coral and coral reef responses to the 2010 cold water anomaly in the Florida Keys

Academic Article


  • © 2016 Kemp et al. Organismal and community-wide responses of reef-building corals are documented before and after a severe cold-water thermal anomaly that occurred in 2010 in the Florida Keys, USA. In January 2010 seawater temperatures dropped far below the normal minima (to < 11° C), resulting in the largest documented coral mass mortality event ever recorded in the Florida Keys. Physiological measurements demonstrated species-specific thermal sensitivities to this environmental perturbation. Four common corals with narrow thermal tolerance, Acropora cervicornis, Orbicella annularis, O. faveolata, and Porites astreoides, sustained high mortality (> 80%) on inshore reefs. In contrast, another common coral with a wide thermal tolerance, Siderastrea siderea, was not affected by this cold anomaly. We measured biomass, symbiotic algal densities (genus: Symbiodinium), chlorophyll a content, and maximum quantum efficiency of photosystem II for reef-building corals on a seasonal basis before and after the 2010 cold anomaly. Our data document a clear correspondence between physiological response, biomass levels, and survivorship among these five scleractinian coral species. These physiological findings are mirrored by in-shore benthic community monitoring data, which show the dramatic loss of the three cold-sensitive species and continued survival of the cold-tolerant species. Finally, we document recruitment and survival rates of newly settled reef-building corals on four inshore reefs, which experienced high coral mortality during the 2010 cold-kill. Interestingly, both a cold-tolerant species, S. siderea, and a cold-intolerant species, P. astreoides, were the most abundant species recruiting to these postdisturbance reefs.
  • Authors

    Published In

  • Ecosphere  Journal
  • Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Kemp DW; Colella MA; Bartlett LA; Ruzicka RR; Porter JW; Fitt WK
  • Volume

  • 7
  • Issue

  • 6