Coral Bleaching May be Survived by Fatter Corals in the Face of Climate Change

First Posted: Nov 18, 2015 07:05 AM EST

How will corals survive climate change without major bleaching events? It all has to do with fat. Scientists have found how some coral can survive annual bleaching events.

Tropical corals are extremely sensitive to heat stress. Because of this, a process called bleaching can occur. This is when corals eject their zooxanthellae, which are algae that the corals usually live in symbiosis with. The algae are what give the corals their vibrant hues, so the corals appear to be white, or bleached, when the algae is gone. In addition, bleached corals are more susceptible to storm damage and disease.

"These global bleaching events have already occurred since the 1980s, and will likely occur annually starting later this century," said Verena Schoepf, lead author of the new study, in a news release. "Therefore, it has become more urgent than ever to know how coral can survive annual bleaching-one of the major threats to coral reefs today." She continued by saying that "Already, bleaching events have resulted in significant amounts of coral dying and causing impact to ocean ecosystems, but up until now it was largely unknown whether coral could recover between annual bleaching events.

In this latest study, the researchers exposed three different coral species to two rounds of annual bleaching. Then they tested them six weeks later to see how well they had recovered. In the end, they found the species of coral that kept the largest fat reserves had done the best, while the coral that had stored the least fat had recovered the least.

The findings are important when it comes to predicting the persistence of coral reefs and which corals will be most likely to survive ongoing climate change.

The findings are published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

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