The most temperature-adapted corals have an Achilles’ Heel

The corals of the Persian/Arabian Gulf are better adapted to temperature fluctuations than elsewhere in the Indo-Pacific. The Gulf is an extreme marine environment displaying the highest known summer water temperatures for any reef area. The small and shallow sea can be considered a good analogue to future conditions for the rest of the world’s oceans under global warming. The fact that corals can persist in such a demanding environment indicates that they have been able to acclimatize and selectively adapt to elevated temperature. The implication being that colonies elsewhere may be able to follow suit. This in turn provides hope that corals may, given sufficient time, similarly adapt to survive even in an impoverished form, under conditions of acidification-driven lowering of CaCO3 saturation state, a further consequence of raised atmospheric CO2. This paper demonstrates, however, that the uniquely adapted corals of the Gulf may, within the next three centuries, be threatened by a chronic habitat shortage brought about by the dissolution of the lithified seabed on which they rely for colonisation. This will occur due to modifications in the chemical composition of the Gulf waters due to climate change.

Purkis, S. J., Renegar, D. A., & Riegl, B. M., in press. The most temperature-adapted corals have an Achilles’ Heel. Marine Pollution Bulletin doi:10.1016/j.marpolbul.2010.11.005. Article (subscription required).

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