Coral reefs can take the heat

2012-01-30 14:24

Sydney - There is further evidence that coral reefs can cope with the rising sea temperatures associated with climate change.

Researchers working on the Great Barrier Reef have found that the assembly of 2 900 individual reefs stretching 2 600km down Australia's east coast can adapt to warmer waters.

Emily Howells, from James Cooke University in Townsville, Queensland, set out to see whether it was right to assume that corals that flourished in warmer waters had different energy-producing algal cells from those that lived in cooler waters.

She found that the cells, called zooanthellae, had different rates of adaptability to rising temperature and that this held true across those from cooler waters and those from warmer waters.


"Previously we knew that it was different types of zooanthellae that vary in their temperature tolerations, so if a coral was going to be thermally tolerant through its zooanthellae it would have to be able to host different types," she said.

"Now, in the research that I did, also within one type of zooanthellae there are different levels of thermal tolerance and that's because different populations have adapted to different thermal environments."

Her research, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, showed that the adaptability of zooanthellae "may assist corals to increase their thermal tolerance and persist into the future".

Over recent years, the research on the Great Barrier Reef has shown corals are hardier than scientists previously thought. This is important to Australia: The reef has two million visitors a year and underpins tens of thousands of jobs in tourism.

"Overall, it's good news for coral, but we need to keep it in context," Howells said. "The overarching question is whether they can adapt at the same rate that the ocean temperature is rising.

"It's better to do research to quantify rates of adaptation than to have a guessing game on whether they can't adapt and they are all going to die or whether they can adapt - and adapt at the rate the ocean temperature is rising."

  • - 2012-01-30 15:10

    This article is misleading. Rising temperature is one threat, but a larger one for corals is ocean acidification ( This makes it chemically difficult for marine organisms to develop shells - this would include coral.

      Sheda - 2012-01-30 20:42

      and rising temperatures will melt more fresh water which will reduce what's the problem. is nature just not adjusting itself without your taxation.

  • Hamrammr - 2012-01-30 16:20

    I'm not a marine biologist but would have to disagree with this article! I have been a reefkeeper, or marine aquarist, for years and the single greatest threat besides incorrect water chemistry for marine organisms is heat. We invest a great deal of money on ways to keep the water temperature stable as even one degree too high for a prolonged period (Sometimes even for a short period) would cause corals to bleach (the expellation of their symbiotic algae) and subsequently die. Rising temperatures not only pose a direct danger but it also affect the properties of the saline water with regards to chemical absorbtion etc.

      Sheda - 2012-01-30 19:47

      and some corals are living at -1 deg C and the same species is found at Barrier Reef 23 deg warmer. We do not know everything. But I will tell you something. Global warming is a lie. Climate CHANGE (up or down)is natural. Stop panicking. The politicians want you to panic to pay tax. The scientists want you to panic so that they can get grants(aka wages) from the politicians. Relax .... did you know that the sea is getting saltier and global temp. increases would melt fresh water and reduce the salinity. Everyone wins especially the fish.

      Sheda - 2012-01-30 19:49

      and before you say -1deg C is ice .....not in the saline rich ocean water. Closer to -3deg C before it freezes.

      Alfred - 2012-01-31 05:22

      @Sheda. Wow so 95% of scientists and scientific journals are involved in this conspiracy to steal your money. I suppose you think evolution is a conspiracy by scientists against religion. Wear a tin foil hat much?

  • Trevor - 2012-01-31 10:40

    @ sheda rising tempretures will melt more ice which itself is a problem on its own , its not a solution to acidification fresh water and sea water dont mix due to different densities

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