Hope that Corals Will Withstand Global Warming's Impact

Could coral reefs stand a fighting chance against the onslaught of global warming after all? While most previous reports had painted a bleak (or even bleaker) picture of their future outlook, a new study from researchers at the Polish Academy of Sciences' Institute of Paleobiology has intimated that they may in fact be able to adapt in time. Jaroslaw Stolarski and his colleagues found that ancient corals were able to alter the way they built their aragonite skeletons to adjust to their increasingly acidic surroundings - opening the door to the possibility that modern corals could do the same under similar conditions.

The fossilized corals they studied - belonging to the genus Coelosmilia, which were commonly found during the Cretaceous period - had calcite skeletons, a form of calcium carbonate less susceptible to the corrosive effects of a lower pH (as opposed to aragonite). "We now have many different arguments to prove that these corals were actually made originally out of calcite—and not just aragonite that was transformed after the coral died and become fossilized ... There was great biological variability among the corals, and some of them adjusted perfectly to the prevailing geochemical situation," said Stolarski.If calcite skeletons were more effective at dealing with an increasingly acidic ocean, why were there still so many aragonite skeletons? According to Stephen Cairns, a research zoologist at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, it may be because corals evolved the ability to switch their skeletons from one form to the other: "This study has opened the door to the possibility that coral skeletons can potentially change back and forth from aragonite to calcite."

Stolarski stresses the importance of maintaining coral diversity to ensure the fragile organisms' long-term survival. "If we completely eliminate some families or groups of corals, we may lose the very corals that would be able to adjust to changing environments in the future," he cautioned. Assuming modern corals will be able to display the same (or similar) resistance mechanisms as their ancient forebears - still a big "if" at this point - there may yet be hope for them.

Via ::National Geographic News: Corals May Have Defense Against Global Warming (news website)

See also: ::Never Mind Future Temperature Increases: CO2 Emissions Deserve EPA's Attention NOW, ::Corals Engage in Fisticuffs with Global Warming
Image courtesy of National Geographic

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