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Biological review of 82 species of coral petitioned to be included in the Endangered Species Act

July 13, 2015

list 83 coral species as threatened or endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. The petition was based on a predicted decline in available habitat for the species, citing anthropogenic climate change and ocean acidification as the lead factors among the various stressors responsible for the potential decline. The NMFS identified 82 of the corals as candidate species, finding that the petition provided substantive information for a potential listing of these species. The NMFS established a Biological Review Team (BRT) to prepare this Status Review Report that examines the status of these 82 candidate coral species and evaluates extinction risk for each of them. This document makes no recommendations for listing, as that is a separate evaluation to be conducted by the NMFS.

The BRT considered two major factors in conducting this review. The first factor was the interaction of natural phenomena and anthropogenic stressors that could potentially contribute to coral extinction. After extensive review of available scientific information, the BRT considers ocean warming, disease, and ocean acidification to be the most influential threats in posing extinction risks to the 82 candidate coral species between now and the year 2100. Threats of local origin but having widespread impact, such as sedimentation, nutrient enrichment, and fishing, were considered of medium importance in determining extinction risks. It is acknowledged that many other threats (e.g., physical damage from storms or ship groundings, invasive species or predator outbreaks, collection and trade) also negatively affect corals, often acutely and dramatically, but generally at relatively small local scales. These local threats were considered to be of limited scope and not deemed to contribute appreciably to the risk of species extinction, except in those special cases where species have restricted geographic or habitat ranges or species have already undergone precipitous population declines such that these local threats further contribute to depensatory processes that can magnify extinction risks (e.g., feedback-loops whereby individual survival decreases with smaller population size). The BRT acknowledges that local and global threats operate on different time scales and, though there is high confidence in the general progression of some key global threats, such as ocean warming and ocean acidification, there is much less certainty in the timing and spatial patterns of these threats. There is also substantial uncertainty in the abilities of the 82 candidate coral species to tolerate or adapt to each of the threats examined, as well as uncertainty in the dynamics of multiple simultaneous stresses. The BRT specifically identified increasing human population levels and the intensity of their collective human consumption as the root drivers of almost all global and local threats to coral species. In evaluating future threat impacts, the BRT attempted to project current trends, without assumptions of future policy changes or technological advances that could potentially alter the projections used in this analysis.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2011
Title Biological review of 82 species of coral petitioned to be included in the Endangered Species Act
Authors Russell E. Brainard, Charles Birkeland, C. Mark Eakin, Paul McElhany, Margaret W. Miller, Matt Patterson, G.A. Piniak
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype Other Government Series
Series Title NOAA Technical Memorandum
Series Number NMFS‐PIFSC‐27
Index ID 70004385
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Coop Res Unit Seattle