Research shows protecting ‘hot corals’ is key to saving coral reefs – ScienceDaily

Coral reefs could adapt to climate change if given the opportunity to evolve, according to a study led by the Coral Reef Alliance, Rutgers University, University of Washington and other institutions.

The latest study published in the journal Nature’s environment and evolutionfound that corals can evolve and adapt to the effects of climate change – but only if we protect enough coral diversity, especially when it comes to temperatures.

“Evolution occurs when corals that have already adapted to new environmental conditions reproduce with corals that have not yet adapted,” said Malin Pinsky, associate professor at Rutgers and co-author of the study. “As ocean temperatures rise, we need to keep reefs healthy and protected in hotter waters so they can reproduce and spread their heat tolerance to other reef areas.”

The study calls for a conservation approach that protects coral reefs at the local, regional and global scales, in a way that allows heat tolerance to spread.

The study authors said that if humanity takes rapid and effective action to keep coral reefs healthy at local levels and tackle climate change, coral reef ecosystems may recover over the next century and thrive in the future.

“The best part about these findings is that they underscore the importance of our actions at local levels – we don’t have to just sit back and watch coral reefs suffer as our climate changes,” said Madhavi Colton, lead author of the study. and former Executive Director of the Coral Reef Alliance. “This study provides guidance on how to design local protection solutions that will have real and lasting impacts in the future.”

Coral reefs cover less than one percent of the Earth’s surface, but they are among the most biodiverse ecosystems on our planet. Coral reefs are home to about 25 percent of marine life, and support an estimated one billion people with food, income, and coastal protection. But threats to coral reefs are increasing. Today, approximately 75 percent of all coral reefs are threatened by climate change and local human activities.

Scientists predict that 99 percent of coral reefs will be lost by the end of this century without a concerted effort to protect them.

“We simply cannot afford to lose coral reefs,” said Helen Fox, director of conservation sciences at the Coral Reef Alliance and co-author of the study. “It is imperative that we do what we can to save coral reefs now because we will face combined economic, humanitarian and global biodiversity crises if we do not.”

The study was co-authored by Malin Pinsky, assistant professor in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Natural Resources at Rutgers University, as well as Lisa McManus, who conducted the work as a postdoctoral researcher at Rutgers University and is now a faculty member at Rutgers University. Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, and researchers from the Coral Reef Alliance, University of Washington, Stanford University, University of Queensland, University of British Columbia and The Nature Conservancy. The research was funded by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and The Nature Conservancy.

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