Sub-tropical corals vulnerable, new study shows
vulnerability and conservation value of sub-tropical reefs south of the Great Barrier Reef -regarded as climate change refuges -- has been highlighted in a new study.
University of Queensland School of Biological Sciences researcher Dr Brigitte Sommer said the study of Eastern Australian reefs revealed coral species would likely shift their distribution southward in response to climate change.
Coral range expansions would likely vary among species depending on the species’ characteristics and traits.
“In the subtropical-to-temperate transition zone south of the Great Barrier Reef, corals are at the limits of their distribution and environmental tolerances, as the water is cooler,” Dr Sommer said.
“There is less light and conditions are more seasonal and variable than on the Great Barrier Reef.”
Dr Sommer, a member of Professor John Pandolfi’s lab at UQ, said the new study examined 17 reefs from the Sunshine Coast, in south-east Queensland, to Port Stephens in New South Wales.
“We sought to investigate the ecological and evolutionary processes that shape coral biodiversity patterns at their southern range limits,” she said.
“We also examined the evolution of coral species’ traits to determine whether these characteristics were stable over time.”
Dr Sommer said it was important to conduct such studies to understand the stability of the species’ environmental tolerances and the ecological drivers of biodiversity patterns so scientists could more accurately predict species’ range shifts and ecological responses to climate change.
“For example, if characteristics such as environmental tolerances are stable over time and don’t change, then corals will likely only expand their ranges to areas where environmental conditions are similar to where corals currently occur,” Dr Sommer said.
“And corals will probably have less capacity to adapt t o novel environmental conditions.”