According to a study published Thursday in Science, corals that live in cooler seas can be helped by their relatives in warmer environments to survive the high temperatures global warming may bring.
Researchers learned that the two types of corals can be crossbred and the heat-resistant genes can be inherited by corals normally thriving in cool waters.
Biologists from the University of Texas in Austin and Australian Institute of Marine Science performed a series of tests on warm water-loving corals from Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and their cousins living 310 miles south, in cooler waters.
The U.S. and Australian study could help conservationists crossbreed the corals to help those living in cooler climates survive the challenges climate change may bring. The team also found that coral larvae living in northern parts where waters are already warmer by 67.6 degrees F (2 degrees C) are ten times more resilient to heat stress than those living in the south.
After crossbreeding, Acropora millepora coral larvae, which thrive in the Pacific and Indian Ocean, showed a “significantly” higher resistance to heat than other species living in cooler waters.
But on coral survival depend other sea animals as well. For instance, coral reefs are used by fish to lay their eggs and raise their offspring. Moreover, coral reefs are a major tourist attraction and an important source of income for the nearby countries.
Dr. Mikhail Matz from the University of Texas at Austin and co-author of the research disclosed that the best method to crossbreed the two species of corals was to transplant adult corals and allow them to breed with natural corals in a reef.
But warmer temperatures are not the only problem corals currently face. Last year, the United Nations reported that corals were in danger because acidification of the oceans and pollution as well. According to the U.N. report, the Arctic and warm water corals displayed “irreversible damage” in the wake of global warming.
Line Bay, one of the Australian researchers involved in the study, disclosed that the heat-resistant gene that can be passed from one coral species to another was not a “silver bullet” which could solve all the problems corals currently face.
The recent study is a small part of a larger effort of relocating plants and animals to protect them from climate change and high temperatures. But the practice had been highly criticized because in the process animals and plants can bring diseases to their new home and disrupt the local ecological balance.
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