American Association for the Advancement of Science
An analysis of present-day global depth distributions of reef-building corals and underlying environmental drivers contradicts a commonly held belief that ocean warming will promote tropical coral expansion into temperate latitudes. Using a global data set of a major group of reef corals, we found that corals were confined to shallower depths at higher latitudes (up to 0.6 meters of predicted shallowing per additional degree of latitude). Latitudinal attenuation of the most important driver of this phenomenon—the dose of photosynthetically available radiation over winter—would severely constrain latitudinal coral range extension in response to ocean warming. Latitudinal gradients in species richness for the group also suggest that higher winter irradiance at depth in low latitudes allowed a deep-water fauna that was not viable at higher latitudes.