Seasonal seas may help coral reefs survive global warming

November 30th, 2007 - 2:27 pm ICT by admin  

Washington, Nov 30 (ANI): A new study has found that corals might survive rising ocean temperatures in tough love seas with wide-ranging temperatures.

Coral reefs are composed of tiny creatures that live in colonies in mostly tropical and subtropical waters. Corals are home to beneficial algae, which gives reefs their stunning colors. During prolonged, unusually high surface temperatures, many coral species bleach, discharging the algae and leaving the reefs white and sickly.

The eight-year study on the reefs of East Africa, led by Dr. Tim McClanahan, Senior Scientist working for Wildlife Conservation Societys Coral Reef Programs, found that corals living in variable temperatures were better able to survive warmer seas due to climate change.

In the study, the researchers examined temperature variations and coral bleaching events off the coast of East Africa between the years of 1998 and 2005.

The analysis found that coral reefs in sites with varying seasonal temperatures were more likely to survive the hot pulses of climate change.

On the other hand, reefs living in environments with stable but higher temperatures were more susceptible to bleaching, a global phenomenon where beneficial algae are evicted by corals, ultimately leading to the reefs demise.

This finding is a ray of hope in a growing sea of coral bleaching events and threatened marine wildlife, said McClanahan.

With rising surface temperatures threatening reef systems globally, these sites serve as high diversity refuges for corals trying to survive, he said.

Through the study, the researchers also discovered that the coral reefs in sites with the most temperature variation were in the shadow of islands, protected from the oceanic currents that reduce temperature variations in reef ecosystems.

According to the researchers, the results of the study suggest that corals in these locations are better adapted to environmental variation. Consequently, they are more likely to survive dramatic increases in temperature.

The findings are encouraging in the fact that at least some corals and reef locations will survive the warmer surface temperatures to come. They also show us where we should direct our conservation efforts the most by giving these areas our highest priority for conservation, McClanahan said.

The study will appear in the journal Ecological Monographs. (ANI)

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