Cancer detection equipment shows us why some corals resist bleaching

coral reef photo
CC BY 2.0 USFWS Pacific

Coral bleaching is a huge problem made worse by global warming. It threatens extremely productive ecosystems that are home to countless marine species. Yet some corals do better than others wen exposed to the same hostile environment. Why is that? Scientists at Northwestern University and the Field Museum of Natural History asked themselves that very question, and they think they found the answer using optical technology designed for early cancer detection.

Corals light test© Luisa A. Marcelino, Mark W. Westneat, & al.

the researchers discovered that reef-building corals scatter light in different ways to the symbiotic algae that feed the corals. Corals that are less efficient at light scattering retain algae better under stressful conditions and are more likely to survive. Corals whose skeletons scatter light most efficiently have an advantage under normal conditions, but they suffer the most damage when stressed.

The findings could help predict the response of coral reefs to the stress of increasing seawater temperatures and acidity, helping conservation scientists preserve coral reef health and high biodiversity. (source)

So the corals that were the "fittest" (in the natural selection meaning of the word) in the past are turning out to be disadvantaged compared to their less efficient cousins under today's environment. This is the first research to show that light-scattering properties are a risk factor for corals. Hopefully this will help us devise ways to better protect coral reefs, as they are the most fertile biodiversity hotspots in our planet's oceans.

The whole study was published under an open access license, so you can read it here.

Via EurekAlert, PLoS One

See also: Guy Callendar's groundbreaking scientific paper on man-made global warming is 75 years old

Related Content on