Environment

Applying Environmental Genomics to Coral Conservation

Coral reefs are extremely sensitive to temperature, making them particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

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Coral reefs are extremely sensitive to temperature, making them particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

Coral reefs are extremely sensitive to temperature, making them particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. But some corals seem able to adapt. Researchers from EPFL and the French National Research Institute for Sustainable Development (IRD) studied a reef in New Caledonia, combining approaches from environmental science and genomics to characterize their adaptive potential and develop targeted conservation strategies.

Oceans are a bellwether for the planet’s health, absorbing over 90% of the sun’s energy. They demonstrate the extent to which rising temperatures are threatening coral reefs and other vital ecosystems that support biodiversity. In 2016 and 2017, an abrupt rise in surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean caused mass bleaching on an unprecedented scale. Australia’s Great Barrier Reef was especially hard-hit.

Bleaching occurs when heat stress disrupts the symbiotic relationship between corals and the tiny algae that live inside them, providing a source of nutrients for coral and giving them their color. Persistent bleaching can lead to coral death. In the past two decades, abnormal heatwaves caused entire sections of reef off the coast of Australia – measuring several kilometers in length – to turn white.

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