New research found that coral populations are beginning to adapt to warmer ocean waters, and it may now be possible to help the endangered coral reefs through the new genetic changes taking place.
Researchers crossed corals from cooler waters with those in warmer areas in Australia and found that coral larvae that had a parent from cooler temperatures were “up to 10 times as likely to survive heat stress,” the University of Texas at Austin reported.
A team of scientists from that university, as well as the Australian Institute of Marine Science and Oregon State University, conducted the research on coral from the warmer Great Barrier Reef in Australia and from cooler waters to the south.
The researchers identified how the biology for handling heat tolerance worked and found that it could evolve rapidly in genetic variations, UT said.
"Our research found that corals do not have to wait for new mutations to appear. Averting coral extinction may start with something as simple as an exchange of coral immigrants to spread already existing genetic variants," said Mikhail Matz, an associate professor of integrative biology at UT. "Coral larvae can move across oceans naturally, but humans could also contribute, relocating adult corals to jump-start the process."
Matz told The New York Times that the heat
tolerance genetic quality is “highly heritable,” meaning it transfers easily between coral generations.
The quality will spread naturally across the waters, but Matz told The Times that humans can make it occur more quickly. But this also isn’t a solution to climate change and warming ocean waters.
"This is not a magic bullet," Matz told the newspaper. "The existence of this gene variation buys us some time."
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