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Researchers Discover That Coral Species Respond Differently To Ocean Warming

Amidst the gruelling concerns of coral extinction, researchers have now discovered a ‘cryptic species’  that could probably survive ocean warming. 

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Amidst the gruelling concerns of coral extinction, researchers have now discovered a ‘cryptic species’  that could probably survive bleaching. The team of experts, essentially belonging to Florida State University, identified a “genetically diverse” coral species dotting the seafloor that vary in their response to ocean warming. In the aftermath, they said that further research into the newfound species could help them in fathoming how corals maintain resilience in face of disturbances.

The research took place at Coral Reef Long Term Ecological Research Site at Moorea in French Polynesia. Firstly, the scientists used the technology of ‘molecular genetics’ to discover the coral species which cope best with thermal stress. “Being able to recognize the differences among coral species that cannot be identified in the field -- known as 'cryptic species' -- will help us understand new ways coral reefs maintain resilience in the face of disturbance," Scott Burgess, the paper's lead author said. The researchers analysed the coping abilities of the marine invertebrates in relation to coral bleaching events that took place in 2019. 

In the research, that was published in the journal Ecology, The team explained that Corals get their colour from algae that live in their tissues and with which they have a symbiotic relationship. But when corals are stressed -- by high water temperature, for example -- algae leave the coral, which turns white, hence the term "bleaching." Bleached corals are not dead, but they are more vulnerable and more likely to die. 

Coral bleaching

Upon their analysis of tissue samples, they found that out of all the corals, nearly 72 per cent bleached and 42 per cent died from the bleaching event. While it was initially believed that corals from larger colonies were more susceptible to destruction, researchers found that it was corals’ genetic lineage that decided their fate. They found that about 86 per cent of the corals that died belonged to a group that shares a set of DNA variations, which is known as a haplotype and reflects their common evolutionary ancestry.

“This intriguing research demonstrates the importance of molecular genetics in understanding marine ecology. What looked like size-based mortality in corals turned out to be a case of some species being more temperature-sensitive than others. Such work fundamentally changes how we look at the reef ecosystem of Moorea,” Daniel Thornhill, a program director in NSF's Division of Ocean Sciences was quoted as saying by National Science Foundation. 

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