False Alarm: Spate Of New Studies Reject Claim Corals Are In Imminent Danger

Coral reefs keep cool

By Dr. Sebastian Lüning and Prof. Fritz Vahrenholt
(German text translated by P Gosselin)

Coral horror stories have long been among the favorites of the media. Lately, however, a number of journalists have been taking a closer look at the state of the coral reefs. A good example is an article appearing in the German Spektrum der Wissenschaft (Spectrum of Science) on October 24, 2016, where Kerstin Viering did not allow research results to be swept away under the carpet:

Why some coral reefs are defying all the problems
Climate change, pollution, over-fishing: Coral reefs do not have it easy today. Some reefs, however, have been holding up amazingly well. A reason for optimism?”

Continue reading at Spektrum der Wissenschaft.

Currently research is making good progress. Slowly scientists are beginning to understand how corals are able to adapt to changed conditions. A press release from the University of Texas at Austin from November 7, 2016:

New Coral Research Exposes Genomic Underpinnings of Adaptation

Scientists at The University of Texas at Austin have observed for the first time that separate populations of the same species — in this case, coral — can diverge in their capacity to regulate genes when adapting to their local environment. The research, published today in Nature Ecology and Evolution, reveals a new way for populations to adapt that may help predict how they will fare under climate change.

The new research was based on populations of mustard hill coral, Porites astreoides, living around the Lower Florida Keys. Corals from close to shore are adapted to a more variable environment because there is greater fluctuation in temperature and water quality: imagine them as the more cosmopolitan coral, adapted to handling occasional stressful events that the offshore coral are spared. When researchers swapped corals from a close-to-shore area with a population of the same species from offshore waters, they found that the inshore-reef corals made bigger changes in their gene activity than the corals collected from an offshore reef. This enabled the inshore corals to adapt better to their new environment.

“It is exciting that populations so close together — these reefs are less than 5 miles apart — can be so different,” says corresponding author Carly Kenkel, currently affiliated with the Australian Institute of Marine Science. “We’ve discovered another way that corals can enhance their temperature tolerance, which may be important in determining their response to climate change.”

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