Fat Coral More Likely to Survive Bleaching Events

Written by on November 30, 2015 in Coral Reefs, Marine Life

A new study found that coral with high levels of fat or other energy reserves can withstand the impact of annual coral bleaching better than coral with lower levels.

Mountainous star coral, Orbicella faveolata. Photo credit: NOAA.

Mountainous star coral, Orbicella faveolata, can recovery quickly. Photo credit: NOAA.

Bleaching occurs when waters get too warm for the coral and its zooxanthellae (the little symbiotic organisms that feed coral and give them their color), causing the coral to expel the zooxanthellae, leaving the coral white and weak. The coral loses its primary source of energy, so it slows in growth and loses its stored energy reserves, making it much more susceptible to diseases and death.

As climate change continues to warm the oceans, coral bleaching events are happening more frequently and on larger scales.

“Three global bleaching events have already occurred since the 1980s and will likely occur annually later this century,” lead author and UWA Research Associate from the Oceans Institute, Dr. Verena Schoepf explained in a news release. “Therefore, it has become more urgent than ever to know how tropical coral can survive annual bleaching – one of the major threats to coral reefs today.”

Example of coral bleaching.

Example of coral bleaching. Photo credit: David Burdick, NOAA.

“Already bleaching events have resulted in significant amounts of coral dying causing impact to ocean ecosystems, but up until now it was largely unknown whether coral could recover between annual bleaching events,” Dr. Schoepf said.

Researchers simulated bleaching conditions in a lab setting and found that some species of coral were able to recover much better than others. The difference between the ones that recovered well and the ones that didn’t was the amount of stored energy.

These findings could have implications for future conservation efforts, as bleaching is likely to occur more and more frequently.

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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 MarineScienceToday.com. 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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  1. Deliska Pollara says:

    I hope they continue this study.