"If you look at the geological record, those corals that disappeared were the dominant branching corals and those that survived were the ones that were rare that fit within the range of the others," Charles Birkeland, a biologist at University of Hawaii at Manoa and lead author of the paper, told weather.com.
"Because a coral is common or abundant does not make it necessarily safe."
Conditions over the last 10,000 years have been very good for coral growth, Birkeland
But the very traits that allowed the fastest-growing species to thrive have left them with few defenses in the face of changing ocean chemistry, powerful waves during storms and other factors brought on by warming oceans.
points to one genus of coral in particular, Acropora, whose features like thin tissue, porous skeletons and fast growth rates have caused them to be abundant in good conditions but vulnerable in times of change.
Acropora had a large role in building reefs in the Caribbean.
"It seems kind of a radical thing to say, but most corals are selected [by evolution] for survival and Acropora is selected for rapid growth at the expense of survival," Birkeland
(MORE: Could Coral Reefs Go Extinct?)
The publication of the paper comes just after the closing of a public comments period on a 2009 petition brought by the Center for Biological Diversity
asking the National Marine Fisheries Service to list 83 coral species as either threatened or engendered.
A 2008 paper in Science that found that one-third of reef-building corals are under elevated extinction risk from both climate change and local human activities prompted the petition, Birkeland
The Fisheries Service is currently considering placing 66 species on the Endangered Species Act listings, including 24 species of Acropora.
was among a small group asked to evaluate the validity of the petition; after they completed their evaluation, they continued looking into the issue independently, which resulted in the new paper.
Right now, the process for deciding which species to list as endangered or threatened "is entirely focused on distribution and abundance," Birkeland