Thursday, November 24, 2005

Great, bleach barrier reef algae!

Hopeful evidence that reefs may have some resistance to climate change and the feared 'coral bleaching' is emerging from the Australian Institute of Marine Science and CRC Reef Research Centre.
Scientists believe corals may be able to protect themselves from devastating bleaching events after discovering some can adapt to climate change.

The find, described by Ray Berkelmans as "tremendously exciting", comes amid predictions that the Great Barrier Reef could be wiped out by the end of the century because of rising water temperatures.
The good scientist goes on to say his studies had found coral could adapt to climate change by using a type of algae to become thermally tolerant.
"Through an extensive transplant experiment and also through laboratory temperature stressing experiments we were able to determine that, at least for the species that we were looking at, under some conditions the corals were able to take on a new type of algae into their system," he said yesterday.

"There are different types of algae that it can associate with and when it associates with a particular type called D, it becomes more thermally tolerant. That's a tremendously exciting find. Up until recently we weren't sure that corals could adapt at all.

"We found instances where individual corals change the dominant zooxanthellae (algal partner) type from type C to D after a major stress event," he said. Type C is found in more than 95 per cent of the reef.

"It's evolution within the lifespan of an individual coral, and that's the exciting part."

Dr Berkelmans said the find gave scope for optimism that corals could survive future bleaching events, but some questions remained: "We don't know which species; we don't know where; we don't know why."
And so might some of the enormous biomass that the world's coral reefs support, recycling CO2 through the carbon cycle and having a moderating effect on the rate of climate change.

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