Genomic potential for coral survival of climate change

One of the most pressing questions in coral reef biology today is “Will reef-building corals survive climate change?” Critical to this question is the rate at which climate change is progressing and whether that rate will be matched or exceeded by the ability of corals to acclimatize and adapt in their upper stress tolerance limits. The emerging field of genomics (i.e., genome scale genetics) holds great promise for investigation of the raw material needed for coral acclimatization and adaptation to climate change: variation in the gene sequences and activity of the molecular response pathways enabling corals and Symbiodinium to maintain key biological functions under environmental stress. A growing number of studies of gene expression signatures and gene frequency distributions are finding a diverse array of potential targets both for acclimatization potential and adaptive natural selection in climate change resistance. Additionally, research is consistently finding greater acclimatization and adaptive potential than previously thought, which when incorporated into models of coral survival in the future significantly improves the short-term outlook for reef persistence. Much remains to be determined about the extent of relevant phenotypic diversity in coral thermal tolerance and resistance to ocean acidification as well as the relative contributions of the coral host, Symbiodinium, and associated microbes to increased stress resistance. However, application of these new technologies to the question of coral climate change survival provides new evidence that evolutionary accumulation of adaptive diversity and phenotypic plasticity may give corals increased potential for persistence in the Anthropocene.

Barshis D. J., 2015. Genomic potential for coral survival of climate change. In Birkeland C. (Ed.), Coral Reefs in the Anthropocene, Springer Netherlands, p. 133-146. Book chapter (subscription required).


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