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Crossbreeding coral helps it survive cooler waters

Jun 25, 2015, 6:01 PM EDT
Large starfish on coral reef with school of small fish swimming in background
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A University of Texas at Austin study published in the journal Science details research conducted from the United States and Australia on coral reefs. Scientists found that crossbreeding coral that grows in hotter, tropical areas with coral that grows in cooler waters helps the latter defend itself against rising sea temperatures. Reuters reports:

The study, by scientists in the United States and Australia, raises the possibility of deliberate breeding to pass on heat-tolerant genes to combat climate change, linked by almost all scientists to a build-up of man-made greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
 
"Coral larvae with parents from the north, where waters were about 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) warmer, were up to 10 times as likely to survive heat stress, compared with those with parents from the south," the scientists found.
 
And cross-breeding of the corals, of the Acropora millepora species common in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, brought offspring that were "significantly" better at coping with rising temperatures than the cooler southern corals, they wrote.
 
Corals, which are tiny stony-bodied animals, form reefs that are vital nurseries for many fish and are big draws for scuba-diving tourists.
 
"What I think is the most viable strategy is simply to transplant adult corals - we make a reef and let then cross with the natural corals," Mikhail Matz, a co-author at the University of Texas at Austin, told Reuters.
 
The Washington Post reported in early June on the risks for ocean life as a result of global warming:
 
Continued warming of the Earth’s oceans over the next century could trigger disruptions to marine life on a scale not seen in the last 3 million years, scientists warn in a study released Monday.
 
The changes could include extinctions of some of the ocean’s keystone species as well as a widespread influx of “invasive” animals and plants that migrate to new territory because of changing environmental conditions, the report says.
 
But the most dramatic disruptions would likely be averted if the world’s nations can bring greenhouse gas emissions under control in the coming decades, the authors write in the scientific journal Nature Climate Change.
 
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