The researchers explained that managers can use this information to better understand how the world's coral reefs might change under a more unpredictable climate.
"The predictive tool we have developed allows managers to assess the vulnerability of their reefs to extreme wave events," said Madin. "The ability to estimate the potential damage on a reef for different disaster scenarios could help managers plan for economic losses as well as promote strategies to help the reef recover."
The researchers used mathematical models borrowed from engineering theory to translate the movement of storm waves into mechanical stresses on the coral in different parts of the reef, incorporating the various shapes of coral colonies, and then calculated whether or not they will be dislodged during extreme weather.
The study introduces a new concept, "colony shape factor," to translate the myriad shapes and sizes of coral colonies onto a simple scale that measures their vulnerability to being dislodged. Any severe event, like a hurricane, imposes a threshold that can be scored on the same scale, allowing scientists to determine which coral will live and which will die.
The scientists found that the most vulnerable corals are "table" corals, which have a broad flat top supported by a narrow stalk, making them more susceptible to strong wave forces than bushy or mounded corals. Vulnerability also depends on whether the coral grows on the front, crest, flat or the back of the reef, where the force of the waves progressively dies away.
The team ran a field test at Lizard Island, in the northern part of the Great Barrier Reef, taking digital photographs of corals, and calculating their vulnerability. They found that the threshold imposed by
Source:University of California - Santa Barbara