How Corals Thrive in High Temperatures

A growing number or coral species have been found to survive in the hottest temperatures, sparking new research to find out just how these corals are beating the global warming odds.

Global warming has been expected to decline the number of corals that can survive the hot temperatures, but some species can withstand the heat.Researchers from the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton (NOCS) and New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) investigated the reasons as to why this might be possible. The teams worked closely together to select and characterize model corals from the Arabian/Persian Gulf, which will facilitate future molecular-scale investigations into why they can tolerate heat stress.

“We have established successful laboratory cultures of Gulf corals,” said Dr Jörg Wiedenmann, Head of the Coral Reef Laboratory and Senior Lecturer at University of Southampton Ocean and Earth Science, both of which are based at NOCS. “This will greatly accelerate the progress of unravelling the mechanisms that underlie their surprising heat resistance.”

Even a temperature rise of just one degree Celsius can harm symbiotic algae, which increases mortality in corals. The associated loss of symbiotic algae is known as “coral bleaching” because the white skeletons of the corals become visible through the tissue depleted from the algal pigments. But the scientists were surprised to discover that the algae in Gulf corals belong to a group not known for its thermal tolerance.

“Gulf corals are living at the limit of their tolerance,” said co-author Professor John Burt from the New York University Abu Dhabi. “We have observed an increased frequency of coral bleaching events in this area, and we need to act now to protect and understand these ecosystems that hold the answers to many important climate change related questions.”

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