Coral used to predict climate change effects (audio)

University of Queensland (UQ) researchers are planning to test whether the Great Barrier Reef will be able to recover from the effects of climate change.

The annual Great Barrier Reef coral mating season has begun and researchers on Heron Island off the Queensland coast are planning to capture coral sperm and eggs in order to subject them to different levels of carbon dioxide as they develop.

PhD student Alicia Lloyd from UQ’s Coral Reef Studies Centre says her team will collect coral eggs and sperm when the spawning begins to cross-fertilise with adult coral.

She says the aim is to grow coral in tanks with different levels of carbon dioxide and acidity.

The levels reflect different scenarios set out in the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report.

“We’re having the control, which is the water from the reef flat and two CO2 levels,” she said.

“One of them will be a scenario where we do some climate change mitigation. It’s predicting the PH of the sea water will be about 7.8 and the other one is if we just do nothing and just continue on as business as usual and the PH of the seawater will be about 7.6.”

Similar studies using adult coral have examined the effects of climate change and have found a slower rate of growth.

Ms Lloyd’s experiment is the first time it has been examined from fertilisation.

She says it will show whether the reef will be able to recover from damage.

“It’s really important for the baby coral to be able to come to an area and re-colonise that area,” she said.

“This is a really important factor for the rejuvenation of reefs and so if reproduction can’t occur, then basically any area that’s been under any disturbance will have problems recovering.”

Mr Lloyd says it is already known the reef will struggle.

“Whilst there might be some species that have some advantage, there are many species that have disadvantages and this will change the ecology of the reef and will give some species a selective advantage, which means that will change the balance of the reef and we’ll see different species and some species will become extinct,” she said.

The experiment is expected to take three months.

Kerrin Binnie, ABC News, 29 November 2010. Article and audio.

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