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

lopora corals typically harbor one of two types of symbiotic algae: a species that is sensitive to environmental changes or another species that is stress-tolerant," said LaJeunesse. The team found that colonies of Pocillopora corals harboring the sensitive species of algae were bleached following the 2008 cold-water event, which led to a high mortality rate in these corals. In contrast, Pocillopora colonies harboring the stress-tolerant alga were virtually unaffected by the episode.

In addition to their work in the Gulf of California, the team also surveyed reefs along the western coast of Mexico and into Panama. Pocillopora corals were significantly impacted at several of these sites during substantial warming and cooling when there was a particularly strong El Nio/La Nia in 1997 and 1998. In fact, up to 90 percent of all corals died after bleaching. Much like their work further north, the team noted that the majority of corals growing in these locations contained the more tolerant species of algae. "The differential mortality that we witnessed suggests that the relationship between certain populations of Pocillopora and the species of algae they associate with is quite stable," said Warner. "And this stability, ultimately, is an Achilles heel for Pocillopora. The inability of the corals to shuffle their symbionts or to establish symbioses with different species of algae means that we may see a significant loss of coral populations in the future, especially if extreme temperature disturbances, such as the cold anomaly we documented in 2008 or the hot anomaly that took place in 1997, become more frequent or severe."


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Contact: Andrea Boyle
aboyle@udel.edu
302-831-1421
University of Delaware
Source:Eurekalert

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