Coral reefs still have some fight left in them. In the face of climate change, recent discoveries are giving us hope that some corals can hang on longer than researchers imagined by resisting both rising temperatures and ocean acidification.
This growing evidence on the surprising resilience of reefs has gained more support today, with news of lab experiments that demonstrate some corals able to withstand rising temperatures can pass the trait on to their offspring through their genes.
Working on the Great Barrier Reef, Australian and U.S. researchers cross-bred corals from warmer and colder waters, and subjected the offspring to a heat test.
The researchers also found that mother corals passed on heat resistance more effectively than fathers, and that genes related to mitochondria were particularly helpful for resisting warmer temperatures – an unexpected result that they hope to further examine in future studies.
Biologists might be able to transplant particularly heat-resistant adult corals onto reefs that are struggling to adapt to warmer waters – a strategy that might prove useful if the natural spread of resistance is too slow to keep pace with warming.
But there is still one big question hanging over all reefs: how will they cope if we don’t slow and eventually reverse the amount of carbon we emit into the atmosphere? The UN Climate Change Conference in Paris at the end of the year could give resilient corals a chance if it can set a plan that will keep the world to only 2° celsius of warming.
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