Co­ral a cli­mate change pointer

Broome Advertiser - - News -

A new species of co­ral dis­cov­ered in waters off the coast in the State’s north of­fered in­sight into which species were adapt­ing in ar­eas where cli­mate change has had a se­vere im­pact.

A team of sci­en­tists from the WA Mu­seum and Ja­panese and Aus­tralian uni­ver­si­ties dis­cov­ered He­lio­pora hi­ber­ni­ana, named af­ter the Hiber­nia Reef in the Kim­ber­ley where it was found.

WA Mu­seum re­search as­so­ciate and Curtin Univer­sity re­search fol­low Zoe Richards said the species was dis­cov­ered in a part of the world where cli­mate change had se­verely dis­turbed the scle­r­acti­nan or hard-co­ral com­mu­ni­ties.

“Co­ral reefs are the most di­verse ecosys­tems on the planet,” she said. “How­ever, cli­mate change and wide­spread bleach­ing events over the last two decades have caused hard corals to re­treat, threat­en­ing to desta­bilise crit­i­cal bi­o­log­i­cal and ecosys­tem func­tions such as reef build­ing.”

The new species of reef-build­ing Oc­to­co­ral was from a fam­ily of corals that were com­monly called blue co­ral, and the dis­cov­ery was sig­nif­i­cant be­cause the highly con­served blue-co­ral fam­ily has not changed since the Cre­ta­ceous pe­riod 66 mil­lion years ago.

Dr Richards said field ob­ser­va­tions in­di­cated in­di­vid­u­als of the new species were in­tact at Scott Reef af­ter the 2016 ther­mal stress event.

“This raises the pos­si­bil­ity that bleach­ing re­sis­tant non-scle­r­acti­nan reef-builders such as blue co­ral could pro­vide new eco­log­i­cal op­por­tu­ni­ties for fu­ture reefs by fill­ing empty niches left by re­treat­ing hard corals and by per­form­ing crit­i­cal func­tions to help se­cure the fu­ture of co­ral reef ecosys­tems,” she said.

The re­searchers noted the two species of blue co­ral were read­ily iden­ti­fi­able from one an­other as the new species, He­lio­pora hi­ber­ni­ana, had a white skele­ton and the orig­i­nal species, He­lio­pora coerulea, had a blue skele­ton.

Dr Richards said this dis­cov­ery would con­tinue to help re­searchers ex­plore the changes that were pre­dicted to oc­cur in co­ral reef ecosys­tems.

Pic­ture: Zoe Richards/WA Mu­seum

He­lio­pora hi­ber­ni­ana is a new species of blue co­ral (he­lio­po­ria).

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