Saturday, June 19, 2010

Corals at the edge 'hold secrets of survival'

Sify News: Corals dwelling on the exposed edges of the world's great coral reef zones hold secrets to the survival of coral ecosystems facing intensifying pressure from human activities and climate change, according to a study.

Researchers Professor John Pandolfi of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and University of Queensland and Professor Ann Budd of the University of Iowa have released new evidence showing that the evolutionary action on coral reefs is not in their 'hot spots' - but out on the fringes, where corals struggle to survive.

The breakthrough research has triggered a re-think about how to protect corals and other at-risk species under climate change. "We think we may have to pay just as much attention to protecting the edges of the ranges of coral species, where corals are fewer and less diverse, as we are currently paying to the places of rich coral biodiversity," said Pandolfi.

"There are two main reasons. First, this appears to be where corals are evolving most quickly, giving rise to new species, in response to all the challenges they encounter, and where they appear to hybridize with one another most readily, potentially as a survival tactic.

"And second, it is on the edges of their ranges that the corals are likely to encounter significant impacts from climate change - and hence, where we need to act to protect them," he added.

In the study, researchers pioneered a new approach to assessing the conservation significance of a population of species - not simply looking at how many species are present, but also the rate of evolution going on among them. "Evolution is the key to survival for life on Earth, and we feel it makes good sense to assess an area or ecosystem by its evolutionary potential rather than just the number of species it holds," said Pandolfi….

Wreck reefs in the Coral Sea, satellite image via NASA

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