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A new future for corals: Persistence and change in coral reef communities

Date:
April 27, 2015
Source:
Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD)
Summary:
Coral reefs, true reservoirs of biodiversity, are seriously threatened by human activities and climate change. Consequently, their extinction has often been heralded. Now, researchers are painting a less gloomy picture: the planet’s reefs are not doomed to disappear. But they will be very different from the ones we presently know. A new coral fauna will emerge, coming from the species that are most resistant to temperature increases.
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Coral reef structure in French Polynesia, dominated by the genus Porites.
Credit: © IRD / S. Andréfouët

Coral reefs, true reservoirs of biodiversity, are seriously threatened by human activities and climate change. Consequently, their extinction has often been heralded. Now, researchers are painting a less gloomy picture: the planet's reefs are not doomed to disappear. But they will be very different from the ones we presently know. A new coral fauna will emerge, coming from the species that are most resistant to temperature increases.

Some reefs are recovering

Are coral reefs condemned to disappear? During the first decade of the 21st century, the intensification of cyclones, the phenomenon of coral bleaching due to ocean warming, outbreaks of a coral-eating starfish and coral diseases left us with this fear. But today, scientists are revising their pessimistic forecasts from the previous decade. In fact, recent research works show that, while numerous coral species have indeed been declining for more than 30 years, other are holding firm or even increasing in abundance. Consequently, some reefs have recently managed to recover.

Expanding coral genera

During a vast international study over fifteen years, IRD researchers and their partners observed the ecological development of seven coral reefs throughout the world: two in the Caribbean, in Belize and in the American Virgin Islands, and five throughout the Indo-Pacific Ocean in Kenya, Taiwan, Hawaii, Moorea and the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Consequently, the scientists have shown the increase of certain genera, like the Porites reef corals, real reef builders that can resist temperature rises well.

They have also put these recent changes into perspective with regard to past events recorded in fossil reefs, showing that the abundance and structure of coral populations have already varied greatly over the course of past millennia.

Towards new underwater landscapes

These new data have enabled them to refine their mathematical models and to revise their forecasts for the coming decades. As ocean temperatures continue to rise, a subset of "winning" species will thrive: those that have the greatest heat tolerance, the best population growth rates or the greatest longevity. These species should progressively populate the planet's reefs, until they dominate them entirely.

Consequently, the underwater landscapes of the future will be very different to the ones that have been known for millennia. However, much remains to be discovered regarding this new coral fauna and its features. One question in particular remains: will these new eco-systems continue to meet the needs of the populations who depend on them?


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Materials provided by Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD). Note: Content may be edited for style and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Peter J. Edmunds, Mehdi Adjeroud, Marissa L. Baskett, Iliana B. Baums, Ann F. Budd, Robert C. Carpenter, Nicholas S. Fabina, Tung-Yung Fan, Erik C. Franklin, Kevin Gross, Xueying Han, Lianne Jacobson, James S. Klaus, Tim R. McClanahan, Jennifer K. O'Leary, Madeleine J. H. van Oppen, Xavier Pochon, Hollie M. Putnam, Tyler B. Smith, Michael Stat, Hugh Sweatman, Robert van Woesik, Ruth D. Gates. Persistence and Change in Community Composition of Reef Corals through Present, Past, and Future Climates. PLoS ONE, 2014; 9 (10): e107525 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0107525

Cite This Page:

Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD). "A new future for corals: Persistence and change in coral reef communities." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 27 April 2015. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/04/150427124442.htm>.
Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD). (2015, April 27). A new future for corals: Persistence and change in coral reef communities. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 23, 2017 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/04/150427124442.htm
Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD). "A new future for corals: Persistence and change in coral reef communities." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/04/150427124442.htm (accessed May 23, 2017).

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