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BIOS studying how corals adapt to climate change

Brain corals in a tank at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences as part of a study on how they handle changes in water temperature.

A new study is hoped to uncover more about how corals across the world adapt to changing water temperatures and the threat of climate change.

The study, being carried out by researchers at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences and other institutions, will focus on reef-building corals from the Atlantic, Caribbean and Pacific to determine if thermal “stress conditioning” could help corals to become more resilient to climate change.

If so, the study hopes to build cellular and molecular profiles of the more stress-resistant corals to better determine how rising water temperatures will impact reefs across the world.

According to BIOS’s Currents newsletter, the project, scheduled to begin this month, will be carried out by Samantha de Putron and Yvonne Sawall, BIOS marine ecologists, along with Gretchen Goodbody-Gringley, of the Central Caribbean Marine Institute, and Hollie Putnam, of the University of Rhode Island.

The study will be supported by a grant from Heising-Simons Foundation International, a California-based family foundation focused on science, the environment and education.

The work is intended to build on a study completed last year — also supported by HSFI — which found that adult corals which survive environmental stresses produce offspring that are “preconditioned” to survive in new environments.

The research also revealed that thermal stress events sparked changes in coral physiology that were passed on to offspring without altering their DNA structure.

Ms de Putron said: “Collectively, these results support that there is scope for Bermuda’s corals to gain resistance and resilience to marine heatwaves through stress conditioning.

“That conditioning could be through living in areas of higher thermal history or through manipulative stress events within the lab.”

By comparing corals from different regions, the researchers will be able to learn more about their similarities and differences when it comes to addressing changing water temperatures.

Ms Sawall added: “At the global scale, corals growing in areas with higher thermal variability tend to fare better than those in areas of lower thermal variability when they are faced with marine heatwaves.

“The Bermuda-based research will continue to provide a high-resolution test bed of coral resilience, and with this new grant we are excited to establish broader geographic applicability.”

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Published June 02, 2022 at 7:53 am (Updated June 02, 2022 at 7:42 am)

BIOS studying how corals adapt to climate change

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