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New study sheds light on corals' susceptibility to temperature change
Date:5/4/2010

An international team of marine biologists has found that existing diversity in some coral populations may significantly influence their response to extreme temperature disturbances such as those predicted from climate warming. The team demonstrated that natural selection acting on the species of algae living within corals may determine which partnerships will survive when confronted with extreme temperatures changes. The results will be published online in the May 5 issue of the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Corals form symbiotic relationships with photosynthetic algae in order to survive. The algae provide the corals with nutrients and energy, while the corals provide the algae with nutrients and a place to live. According to the scientists, this delicate symbiosis is sensitive to changes in the environment, and especially to changes in temperature. "A change in sea-surface temperature of just a few degrees above the summer high or below the winter low can cause many coral-algal symbioses to break down and the algae to be expelled," said Mark Warner, an associate professor of marine biosciences at the University of Delaware and one of the team's leaders. This process is known as bleaching because it leaves behind the translucent animal tissue and the white skeleton underneath.

The scientists which include Todd LaJeunesse, an assistant professor of biology at Penn State University, and Hector Reyes-Bonilla, a professor at Universidad Autonoma de Baja California Sur found that corals harboring certain species of symbiotic algae survived a severe cold-water event that took place in 2008 in the Gulf of California (eastern Pacific Ocean), while corals harboring a different species of algae died.

The team focused their research on a genus of coral called Pocillopora that comprises approximately 95 percent of the coral community in the Gulf of California and the larger eastern Pacific Ocean. "In this region, Pocil
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Contact: Andrea Boyle
aboyle@udel.edu
302-831-1421
University of Delaware
Source:Eurekalert

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