Good News For Coral: Some Are Ready for Warmer Waters

Written by on June 29, 2015 in Coral Reefs, Marine Life

New research reveals that some coral populations already have what it takes to tolerate warm ocean waters.

Coral outcrop in the Great Barrier Reef. Photo credit: Toby Hudson, CC BY-SA 3.0.

Coral outcrop in the Great Barrier Reef. Photo credit: Toby Hudson, CC BY-SA 3.0.

Researchers from The University of Texas at Austin, the Australian Institute of Marine Science and Oregon State University found that some corals already have genes that help them survive heat stress. Additionally, humans can help spread these genes, potentially improving the survival rate of reefs around the world that are threatened by climate change.

“This discovery adds to our understanding of the potential for coral to cope with hotter oceans,” Line Bay, an evolutionary ecologist with the Australian Institute of Marine Science, explained in a news release.

By crossing corals from naturally warmer locations with corals from cooler locations, the research team found that coral larvae with parents from warmer latitudes were up to 10 times as likely to survive heat stress, compared to corals with parents from cooler latitudes. They also demonstrated that the heat tolerance they documented could evolve quickly.

“Averting coral extinction may start with something as simple as an exchange of coral immigrants to spread already existing genetic variants,” said Mikhail Matz, an associate professor of integrative biology at The University of Texas at Austin. “Coral larvae can move across oceans naturally, but humans could also contribute, relocating adult corals to jump-start the process.”

“This is occasion for hope and optimism about coral reefs and the marine life that thrive there.”

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Copyright © 2015 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .


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