From University of Washington and COSMOS: “Reefs on the move- Coral reefs shifting away from equator, new study finds”

U Washington

From University of Washington

AND

Cosmos Magazine bloc

From COSMOS Magazine

July 9, 2019

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Corals and kelp.Soyoka Muko/Nagasaki University

Coral reefs are retreating from equatorial waters and establishing new reefs in more temperate regions, according to new research published July 4 in the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series. The researchers found that the number of young corals on tropical reefs has declined by 85% — and doubled on subtropical reefs — during the last four decades.

“Climate change seems to be redistributing coral reefs, the same way it is shifting many other marine species,” said lead author Nichole Price, a senior research scientist at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in Maine. “The clarity in this trend is stunning, but we don’t yet know whether the new reefs can support the incredible diversity of tropical systems.”

As climate change warms the ocean, subtropical environments are becoming more favorable for corals than the equatorial waters where they traditionally thrived. This is allowing drifting coral larvae to settle and grow in new regions. These subtropical reefs could provide refuge for other species challenged by climate change and new opportunities to protect these fledgling ecosystems.

“This study is a great example of the importance of collaborating internationally to assess global trends associated with climate change and project future ecological interactions,” said co-author Jacqueline Padilla-Gamiño, an assistant professor at the University of Washington School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences. “It also provides a nugget of hope for the resilience and survival of coral reefs.”

The researchers believe that only certain types of coral are able to reach these new locations, based on how far the microscopic larvae can swim and drift on currents before they run out of their limited fat stores. The exact composition of most new reefs is currently unknown, due to the expense of collecting genetic and species diversity data.

“We are seeing ecosystems transition to new blends of species that have never coexisted, and it’s not yet clear how long it takes for these systems to reach equilibrium,” said co-author Satoshi Mitarai, an associate professor at Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University who earned his doctorate at the UW. “The lines are really starting to blur about what a native species is, and when ecosystems are functioning or falling apart.”

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The study site on Palmyra Atoll, one of the Northern Line Islands that lies between Hawaii and American Samoa.
Nichole Price/Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences

This experiment in the Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge in the Pacific is allowing researchers to enumerate the number of baby corals settling on a reef.

Recent studies show that corals are establishing new reefs in temperate regions as they retreat from increasingly warmer waters at the equator.

Writing in the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series [above], researchers from 17 institutions in six countries report that the number of young corals has declined by 85% on tropical reefs during the last four decades, but -doubled on subtropical reefs.

“Climate change seems to be redistributing coral reefs, the same way it is shifting many other marine species,” says lead author Nichole Price, from Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, US.

“The clarity in this trend is stunning, but we don’t yet know whether the new reefs can support the incredible diversity of tropical systems.”

The research team has compiled a global database of studies dating back to 1974, when record-keeping began. They hope other scientists will add to it, making it increasingly comprehensive and useful to other research questions.

See the full U Washington article here .
See the full COSMOS article here .


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