Discoveries about tropical coral reefs, to be published on 23 June 2010, are expected to be invaluable in efforts to restore the corals, which are succumbing to bleaching and other diseases at an unprecedented rate as ocean temperatures rise worldwide. The research gives new insights into how the scientists can help to preserve or restore the coral reefs that protect coastlines, foster tourism, and nurture many species of fish. The research, which will be published in the journal PLoS One, was accomplished by an international team whose leaders include Iliana Baums, an assistant professor of biology at Penn State University.
The team focused on one of the most abundant reef-building species in the Caribbean, Montastraea faveolata, known as the mountainous star coral. Though widespread, this species is listed as endangered on the Red List of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature because its numbers have declined significantly -- in recent years, up to 90 percent of the population has been lost in some areas.
Discovering how corals respond to ocean warming is complicated because corals serve as hosts to algae. The algae live in the coral and feed on its nitrogen wastes. Through photosynthesis, the algae then produce the carbohydrates that feed the coral. When this complex and delicate symbiosis is upset by a rise in ocean temperature, the coral may expel the algae in a phenomenon known as coral bleaching, which may cause the death of both algae and coral. The challenge is to figure out why some corals cope with the heat stress better than others.
"We decided to focus on coral larvae because the successful dispersal and settlement of larvae is key to the survival of reefs," explains Baums. "Also, since free-swimming larvae do not yet have symbiotic algae, we can record the expression of different genes in our samples and know that we are looking at the molecular response of the coral itself to hea
|Contact: Barbara K. Kennedy|