Nature is truly amazing, and it keeps finding ways to fight challenges mostly created by humans. Coral reefs are no exception. New research found that coral reefs around the world are withdrawing from equatorial waters. New reefs are being established in areas with more moderate temperatures to fight climate change.
A group of researchers found that the number of new corals in tropical coral reefs declined 85%. However, they also found new coral communities established in subtropical areas over the last four decades. Their findings were reported in the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series.
“Climate change seems to be redistributing coral reefs, the same way it is shifting many other marine species,” lead author Nichole Price of the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences said in a statement. “The clarity in this trend is stunning, but we don’t yet know whether the new reefs can support the incredible diversity of tropical systems.”
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Human-driven climate change is warming up the oceans, so subtropical areas are more suitable for new coral reefs. However, researchers believe only certain coral species can adapt to the new environment because of how fast and far the microscopic larvae can swim through the ocean current before running out of fat stores.
“We are seeing ecosystems transition to new blends of species that have never coexisted, and it’s not yet clear how long it takes for these systems to reach equilibrium,” author Satoshi Mitarai of Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University said. “The lines are really starting to blur about what a native species is, and when ecosystems are functioning or falling apart.”
The international group of researchers from 17 institutions and six countries defined a global database consisting of coral reef-related studies to see how coral reefs fight climate change as it becomes more and more intense. The database goes back to 1974, when record keeping began.
The interplay between different species is what keeps coral reefs healthy and functioning. However, scientists still need to determine which species are capable of migrating to new areas, such as coralline algae. Scientists also need to determine how successful baby corals can be at surviving without algae. Price is looking forward to learning more about the diversity between different coral species and the dynamics behind the evolving ecosystems of coral reefs.
“So many questions remain about which species are and are not making it to these new locations, and we don’t yet know the fate of these young corals over longer time frames,” Price said. “The changes we are seeing in coral reef ecosystems are mind-boggling, and we need to work hard to document how these systems work and learn what we can do to save them before it’s too late.”