Marine & Environmental Sciences Faculty Articles


Social-environmental drivers inform strategic management of coral reefs in the Anthropocene


Emily S. Darling, Wildlife Conservation Society; University of Toronto; University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Tim R. McClanahan, Wildlife Conservation Society
Joseph Maina, Macquarie University, Australia
Georgina G. Gurney, James Cook University
Nicholas A. J. Graham, Lancaster University
Fraser A. Januchowski-Hartley, University of Montpellier, France
Josh Eli Cinner, James Cook University - Townsville, Australia
Camilo Mora, University of Hawaii, Manoa
Christina Chemtai Hicks, Lancaster University
Eva Maire, University of Montpellier, France
Marji Puotinen, University of Western Australia
William J. Skirving, NOAA Coral Reef Watch
Mehdi Adjeroud, Institut de Recherche pour le Développement
Gabby Ahmadia, World Wildlife Fund
Rohan Arthur, Nature Conservation Foundation, Karnataka, India
Andrew G. Bauman, National University of SingaporeFollow
Maria Beger, University of Leeds; University of Queensland
Michael L. Berumen, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology
Lionel Bigot, Université de La Réunion
Jessica Bouwmeester, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology; Smithsonian Biology Institute
Ambroise Brenier, WCS Papua New Guinea
Tom C. L. Bridge, James Cook University; Museum of Tropical Queensland
Eric Brown, Kalaupapa National Historical Park
Stuart J. Campbell, Indonesia Program, Wildlife Conservation Society
Sara Cannon, University of British Columbia
Bruce Cauvin, GIP Réserve Naturelle Marine de la Réunion
Chaolun Allen Chen, Academia Sinica - Taipei, Taiwan
Joachim Claudet, PSL Research University
Vianney Denis, National Taiwan University
Simon Donner, University of British Columbia
Estradivari, World Wildlife Fund Indonesia
Nur Fadli, Syiah Kuala University
David A. Feary, MRAG ltd., London
Douglas Fenner, Coral Reef Consulting, Pago Pago
Helen Fox, National Geographic Society
Erik C. Franklin, University of Hawaii, Kaneohe
Alan M. Friedlander, National Geographic Society; University of Hawaii
James Gilmour, University of Western Australia
Claire Goiran, Université de la Nouvelle-Calédonie
James R. Guest, Newcastle University
Jean-Paul A. Hobbs, Curtin University
Andrew S. Hoey, James Cook University
Peter Houk, University of Guam
Steven Johnson, Oregon State University
Stacy Jupiter, Wildlife Conservation Society, Melanesia Program
Mohsen Kayal, Centre de Formation et de Recherche sur les Environnements Méditerranéens; Institut de Recherche pour le Développement
Chao-Yang Kuo, James Cook University; Academia Sinica
Joleah Lamb, University of California Irvine
Michelle A. C. Lee, National University of Singapore
Jeffrey Low, National Biodiversity Centre, National Parks Board, Singapore
Nyawira Muthiga, Wildlife Conservation Society
Efin Muttaqin, Wildlife Conservation Society
Yashika Nand, Wildlife Conservation Society
Kirsty L. Nash, Centre for Marine Socioecology; University of Tasmania
Osamu Nedlic, Kosrae Conservation and Safety Organization
John M. Pandolfi, The University of Queensland, Australia
Shinta Pardede, Wildlife Conservation Society
Vardhan Patankar, Wildlife Conservation Society; National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bangalore, India
Lucie Penin, Université de La Réunion
Lauriane Ribas-Deulofeu, Academia Sinica
Zoe T. Richards, Curtin University; Western Australian Museum
T. Edward Roberts, James Cook University
Ku'ulei S. Rogers, University of Hawaii, Kaneohe
Che Din Mohd Safuan, Universiti Malaysia Terengganu
Enric Sala, Pristine Seas Program
George Shedrawi, Western Australian Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions
Tsai Min Sin, National University of Singapore
Patrick Smallhorn-West, James Cook University
Jennifer E. Smith, University of California, San Diego
Brigitte Sommer, The University of Queensland, Australia; The University of Sydney
Peter D. Steinberg, Nanyang Technological University; Sydney Institute of Marine Science
Makamas Sutthacheep, Ramkhamhaeng University
Chun Hong James Tan, Universiti Malaysia Terengganu
Gareth J. Williams, University of California, San Diego; Bangor University
Shaun Wilson, Western Australian Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions; University of Western Australia
Thamasak Yeemin, Ramkhamhaeng University
John F. Bruno, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Marie-Josee Fortin, University of Toronto
Martin Krkosek, University of Toronto
David Mouillot, James Cook University; University of Montpellier

Document Type


Publication Date


Publication Title

Nature Ecology & Evolution





First Page


Last Page



Without drastic efforts to reduce carbon emissions and mitigate globalized stressors, tropical coral reefs are in jeopardy. Strategic conservation and management requires identification of the environmental and socioeconomic factors driving the persistence of scleractinian coral assemblages—the foundation species of coral reef ecosystems. Here, we compiled coral abundance data from 2,584 Indo-Pacific reefs to evaluate the influence of 21 climate, social and environmental drivers on the ecology of reef coral assemblages. Higher abundances of framework-building corals were typically associated with: weaker thermal disturbances and longer intervals for potential recovery; slower human population growth; reduced access by human settlements and markets; and less nearby agriculture. We therefore propose a framework of three management strategies (protect, recover or transform) by considering: (1) if reefs were above or below a proposed threshold of >10% cover of the coral taxa important for structural complexity and carbonate production; and (2) reef exposure to severe thermal stress during the 2014–2017 global coral bleaching event. Our findings can guide urgent management efforts for coral reefs, by identifying key threats across multiple scales and strategic policy priorities that might sustain a network of functioning reefs in the Indo-Pacific to avoid ecosystem collapse.


Data availability

Data are available on request or directly from the data contributors. Contact details and information on the geographies covered by each data contributor are provided in Supplementary Table 8.

Code availability

All R code is available from

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary acknowledgements, methods, Figs. 1–7 and Tables 1–8.

Reporting Summary

Additional Comments

Major funding for this work was provided via a David H. Smith Conservation Research Fellowship from the Cedar Tree Foundation, a Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation through grants to the Wildlife Conservation Society.





Peer Reviewed

Find in your library