Sub-trop­i­cal corals vul­ner­a­ble, new study shows

Weekend Mirror - - CHILDREN’S CORNER -

The

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.”

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