Corals sustain growth but not skeletal density across the Florida Keys Reef Tract despite ongoing warming.Glob Chang Biol. 2018 11; 24(11):5205-5217.GC
Through the continuous growth of their carbonate skeletons, corals record information about past environmental conditions and their effect on colony fitness. Here, we characterize century-scale growth records of inner and outer reef corals across ~200 km of the Florida Keys Reef Tract (FKRT) using skeletal cores extracted from two ubiquitous reef-building species, Siderastrea siderea and Pseudodiploria strigosa. We find that corals across the FKRT have sustained extension and calcification rates over the past century but have experienced a long-term reduction in skeletal density, regardless of reef zone. Notably, P. strigosa colonies exhibit temporary reef zone-dependent reductions in extension rate corresponding to two known extreme temperature events in 1969-1970 and 1997-1998. We propose that the subtropical climate of the FKRT may buffer corals from chronic growth declines associated with climate warming, though the significant reduction in skeletal density may indicate underlying vulnerability to present and future trends in ocean acidification.