SYNOPSIS. Reef corals and the communities they form evidently possess effective mechanisms of adaptation and acclimation that have ensured their survival and recurrence over geologic time. Current reef degradation suggests that these mechanisms are being taxed beyond their limits; understanding of the problem is hampered by serious inadequacies in our understanding of physiological stress responses, the range and implications of reproductive strategies, and the mechanisms of calcification and algal symbiosis. Reef community and population responses to environmental change appear substantially different on different time scales, and a combination of short-term perspectives and definitional confusion complicates interpretation and prediction of reef responses. Calcium carbonate saturation state is now recognized as a potentially important control of reef calcification, which means that rising atmospheric CO, represents a direct threat to reef ecosystems on a global scale.