One of the most important threats to coral reefs is climate change, as it would make the oceans warmer and more acidic. The rise in Ocean temperatures harm corals as the new temperatures are often outside their normal ranges. The symptoms of declining coral health due to a rise in Ocean temperatures are coral bleaching and slower growth. Why?
Because changes make the corals become stressed, so they will expel the symbiotic algae that live within them, called zooxanthellae. The zooxanthellae undergo photosynthesis, a process plants undergo as well, so corals can take energy from the sun; also, this algae helps corals to form their skeletons. Now, thanks to a new study we know that the solution could live in the same corals.
Researchers from Stanford University tested how corals grew in various temperatures. They compared known heat resistant corals to heat sensitive corals under extreme heat conditions and monitored their genes (not “jeans”) to identify which genes were responsible for providing the heat resistant corals with the ability to survive in extreme temperatures (extreme bleaching conditions). The researchers found 60 gene behaviour differences between the two types of corals. The genes of the heat sensitive corals acted faster to kill cells as a response to increased temperature whereas the heat tolerant coral species did not kill cells, but grew in the same temperatures.
It remains unclear if these differences in genes is only for short-term adaptations, or if it will help heat resistant corals to survive and change the seascape of coral reefs as we know it (i.e. moving from heat sensitive corals, which currently dominate coral reefs to reefs dominated by heat resistant corals) to a more than plausible rise in the ocean temperature.
Do you think heat tolerant corals reefs will be the answer to coral reefs surviving climate change?