Coral reefs may be able to adapt to moderate climate warming, improving their chance of surviving through the end of this century, if there are large reductions in carbon dioxide emissions, according to a study funded by NOAA and researched by the agency's scientists and its academic partners. Results further suggest corals have already adapted to part of the warming that has occurred.
"Earlier modeling work suggested that coral reefs would be gone by the middle of this century. Our study shows that if corals can adapt to warming that has occurred over the past 40 to 60 years, some coral reefs may persist through the end of this century," said study lead author Cheryl Logan, Ph.D., an assistant professor in California State University Monterey Bay's Division of Science and Environmental Policy. The scientists from the university, and from the University of British Columbia, were NOAA's partners in the study.
Warm water can contribute to a potentially fatal process known as coral "bleaching," in which reef-building corals eject algae living inside their tissues. Corals bleach when oceans warm only 1-2C (2-4F) above normal summertime temperatures. Because those algae supply the coral with most of its food, prolonged bleaching and associated disease often kills corals.
The study, published online in the journal Global Change Biology, explores a range of possible coral adaptive responses to thermal stress previously identified by the scientific community. It suggests that coral reefs may be more resilient than previously thought due to past studies that did not consider effects of possible adaptation.
The study projected that, through genetic adaptation, the reefs could reduce the currently projected rate of temperature-induced bleaching by 20 to 80 percent of levels expected by the year 2100, if there are large reductions in carbon dioxide emissions.
"The hope this work brings is only achieved if there is signi
|Contact: Ben Sherman|