JUL 10, 2019 3:16 PM PDT

Coral reefs are on the move

New research published recently in the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series suggests that coral reefs, like other ecosystems, LINK HERE are on the move. The study shows that reefs are moving away from equatorial waters towards more temperate waters, likely in an effort to adapt to climate changes and warming sea temperatures.

"Climate change seems to be redistributing coral reefs, the same way it is shifting many other marine species," said Nichole Price, a senior research scientist at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences and lead author of the paper. The researchers report that within the last forty years, the number of young corals on tropical reefs has declined by 85 percent -- and doubled on subtropical reefs. "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,” says Price.

Coral reefs have been under threat from mass bleaching due to increased ocean acidity and warmer sea temperatures, both a result of high levels of human-emitted fossil fuels. However, marine scientists who work with corals have pondered whether the animals have the capability to adapt. Current studies investigating the resiliency of certain species of corals are looking into restoration possibilities and this research adds important information to understanding reef ecosystems.

"This report addresses the important question of whether warming waters have resulted in increases in coral populations," says David Garrison, a program director in the National Science Foundation's Division of Ocean Sciences, which funded the research. "Whether this offers hope for the sustainability of coral reefs requires more research and monitoring."

However, the researchers hypothesize that while the movement of equatorial reefs to the subtropics could provide new habitats for marine life, it is likely that only certain species of corals will be able to shift their range. But the species that are on the move are creating never-before-seen ecosystems.

"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," said author Satoshi Mitarai, an associate professor at Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University. "The lines are really starting to blur about what a native species is, and when ecosystems are functioning or falling apart."

Coral reefs are shifting away from the equator to the subtropics. Photo: Pixabay

The scientists say that their work is far from complete, and despite the development of a database documenting these “refugee corals,” the need to continue investigating remains. "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."

Sources: Science Daily, Marine Ecology Progress Series

About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
You May Also Like
AUG 11, 2021
Space & Astronomy
Researchers Solve Jupiters 'Energy Crisis'
AUG 11, 2021
Researchers Solve Jupiters 'Energy Crisis'
Astronomers have solved Jupiter's 'Energy Crisis', a long-standing issue that has puzzled scientists for dec ...
AUG 15, 2021
Genetics & Genomics
Stunning Connection Between Bear DNA & Human Language Groups Is Revealed
AUG 15, 2021
Stunning Connection Between Bear DNA & Human Language Groups Is Revealed
Incredible findings from the wilds of coastal British Columbia have shown how closely linked animals, humans, and the en ...
AUG 25, 2021
Earth & The Environment
Environmental Effects of Fast Fashion
AUG 25, 2021
Environmental Effects of Fast Fashion
August 25th is National Secondhand Wardrobe Day! Today we celebrate reusing clothing and keeping it from ending up ...
SEP 08, 2021
Plants & Animals
Are the skeletons of macaque hybrids distinct?
SEP 08, 2021
Are the skeletons of macaque hybrids distinct?
New research sheds insight into the evolution of the human pelvis by using macaque hybrid models.
SEP 27, 2021
Genetics & Genomics
DNA Gives Clues to the Mystery of 'Skeleton' Lake
SEP 27, 2021
DNA Gives Clues to the Mystery of 'Skeleton' Lake
While this research has provided some answers, it also raised many new questions. An image by Atish Waghwase/Harney et a ...
OCT 05, 2021
Chemistry & Physics
Researchers Propose Pathway to Plastics Free of Carbon Emissions
OCT 05, 2021
Researchers Propose Pathway to Plastics Free of Carbon Emissions
Plastics may, in general, be a product of fossil fuels like petroleum, but that has not stopped an international team of ...
Loading Comments...