CORVALLIS, Ore. An explosion of knowledge has been made in the last few years about the basic biology of corals, researchers say in a new report, helping to explain why coral reefs around the world are collapsing and what it will take for them to survive a gauntlet of climate change and ocean acidification.
Corals, it appears, have a genetic complexity that rivals that of humans, have sophisticated systems of biological communication that are being stressed by global change, and are only able to survive based on proper function of an intricate symbiotic relationship with algae that live within their bodies.
After being a highly successful life form for 250 million years, disruptions in these biological and communication systems are the underlying cause of the coral bleaching and collapse of coral reef ecosystems around the world, scientists will report tomorrow in the journal Science.
The research was funded in part by the National Science Foundation.
"We've known for some time the general functioning of corals and the problems they are facing from climate change," said Virginia Weis, a professor of zoology at Oregon State University. "But until just recently, much less has been known about their fundamental biology, genome structure and internal communication. Only when we really understand how their physiology works will we know if they can adapt to climate changes, or ways that we might help."
Corals are tiny animals, polyps that exist as genetically identical individuals, and can eat, defend themselves and kill plankton for food. In the process they also secrete calcium carbonate that becomes the basis for an external skeleton on which they sit. These calcified deposits can grow to enormous sizes over long periods of time and form coral reefs one of the world's most productive ecosystems, which can harbor more than 4,000 species of fish and many other marine life forms.
But corals are not really
|Contact: Virginia Weis|
Oregon State University