A new study puts a surprising twist—one might even say a double spiral—into our understanding of how coral reefs react to ocean warming and acidification. It also offers the possibility of an early warning system for the warmth-induced bleaching events that are increasingly harming coral reefs worldwide.
Coral bleaching events—when stress disrupts the partnership that benefits both corals and the algae that normally live within their tissues—occur nearly five times more frequently now than they did just four decades ago. These events have devastated large swaths of otherwise vibrant coral reef habitats, as well as the fisheries and tourism they nurture, thus threatening the $375 billion that scientists estimate healthy reefs add to the global economy each year.
In the current study, Emily Rivest of William & Mary’s Virginia Institute of Marine Science and colleagues used a cutting-edge genomic technique to test whether ocean warming and acidification might affect the coral host differently than its algal partner. The study, published in the latest issue of Frontiers of Marine Science, was co-authored by Morgan Kelly of Louisiana State University, Melissa DeBiasse of the University of Florida, and Gretchen Hofmann of the University of California, Santa Barbara.