If there are dramatic reductions in carbon dioxide emissions, coral reefs may be able to keep up with climate change, according to a new study.
The study, Incorporating adaptive responses into future projections of coral bleaching, was conducted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s scientists and academic partners.
One of the biggest problems coral reefs face comes from warming oceans. Water temperatures only 1-2°C (2-4°F) above normal summertime temperatures can cause corals to bleach — they expel the algae living in their tissues that provide them with food, which most often results in death.
Based on predictions for bleaching rates in the future, the researchers found that there should have been more bleaching events in the past. This means that some corals have adapted to the warming that has already occurred over the last 50 years. This suggests that if some corals were able to adapt to warming in the past, they may be able to persist through the end of the century, but only if carbon dioxide emissions are greatly reduced.
The study explored a range of possible coral adaptive responses to heat stress that had already been identified by the scientific community and found that corals could reduce the projected rate of bleaching caused by warming waters by 20 to 80 percent of the levels expected by 2100.
The researchers emphasize that this will not be the case if CO2 emissions continue to increase and that not all coral species will react the same way. Some may not be able to adapt fast enough, so future coral reef communities will still be different.
Future studies will examine the rate and limit of different adaptive responses for coral species to determine which ones can adapt to warming waters in time.
To learn more:
- Read the statement from NOAA: New study suggests coral reefs may be able to adapt to moderate climate change
- Read the abstract: Incorporating adaptive responses into future projections of coral bleaching
- Read more about coral and coral bleaching: What Makes Corals Tolerant of Heat, More Algae Means Corals Have More to Lose, and What’s New With Coral Reefs?
- Check out this great project about a unique, healthy reef: Why Isn’t This Reef Affected By Ocean Acidification?
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