NEW STUDY SHOWS GE­NETIC DI­VER­SITY OF CO­RAL COULD EX­TEND OUR CHANCE TO SAVE THE GREAT BARRIER REEF

Scuba Diver Australasia + Ocean Planet - - Briefing -

A study pub­lished in PLOS Ge­net­ics re­cently dis­cov­ered that there may be an ex­tra 50 years for us to save the corals of Aus­tralia’s Great Barrier Reef. Re­searchers from the Univer­sity of Texas at Austin, the Univer­sity of Mel­bourne, and the Aus­tralian In­sti­tute of Ma­rine Sci­ence have found that corals in the Great Barrier Reef have enough ge­netic di­ver­sity to sur­vive ris­ing ocean tem­per­a­tures for an­other cen­tury, dou­ble the pre­vi­ous es­ti­mate.

The sci­en­tists ob­tained their re­sults through a mix of ge­netic sam­pling and com­puter sim­u­la­tions, fo­cus­ing on the staghorn co­ral Acro­p­ora mille­pora, a sig­nif­i­cant species in build­ing the Great Barrier Reef. Corals within this species have been found to be more heat re­sis­tant than oth­ers. When the co­ral colonies re­pro­duce, they re­lease mil­lions of lar­vae that float on ocean cur­rents be­fore set­tling in a new lo­ca­tion. As wa­ters warm, the more heatre­sis­tant lar­vae sur­vive, im­prov­ing the re­silience of the colonies they join. This could be the process that would buy corals an­other half cen­tury.

This ge­netic vari­a­tion is like fuel for nat­u­ral se­lec­tion. If there’s enough vari­a­tion, evo­lu­tion can be quick, as all it needs is to reshuf­fle the ex­ist­ing vari­ants be­tween pop­u­la­tions. The chal­lenge is when the ge­netic vari­a­tion is ex­hausted, this process would not be able to take place, lead­ing to an un­clear fu­ture.

Back-to-back bleach­ing events have af­fected twothirds of the Great Barrier Reef

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