Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Ancient corals hold new hope for reefs

Fossil corals, up to half a million years old, are providing fresh hope that coral reefs may be able to withstand the huge stresses imposed on them by today’s human activity.

Reef ecosystems were able to persist through massive environmental changes imposed by sharply falling sea levels during previous ice ages, an international scientific team has found. This provides new hope for their capacity to endure the increasing human impacts forecast for the 21st century.

In the world’s first study of what happened to coral reefs when ocean levels sank to their lowest recorded level – over 120 metres below today’s levels – a study carried out on eight fossil reefs in Papua New Guinea’s Huon Gulf region has concluded that a rich diversity of corals managed to survive, although they were different in composition to the corals under more benign conditions.

“Of course, sea levels then were falling – and today they are rising. But if we want to know how corals cope with hostile conditions, then we have to study what happens under all circumstances,” explains Professor John Pandolfi of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and The University of Queensland. “We’ve seen what happens to corals in the past when sea levels rose and conditions were favourable to coral growth: we wanted to see what happened when they fell and conditions were adverse.”

“When sea levels drop you get a catastrophic reduction in coral habitat and a loss of connectivity between reefs. Well, those circumstances are in some respects similar to what corals are experiencing today due to human impacts – so there are useful parallels.”

“Although it is little asked, the question of where reef species go when faced with extreme environmental situations is highly relevant for understanding their prospects of survival in the future – and what we need to do to give them the best chance,” Prof. Pandolfi suggests.

In the Huon region, the team found, coral reefs survived the hard times low of sea levels with as much richness of species – but with a different composition to what they had during the good times. “As a rule the coral colonies during the period of low sea levels were closer to the sea floor and slower-growing in comparison with times of high sea levels.”

“What we have found suggests that reef systems are able to survive adverse conditions given suitable shallow rocky habitat. An interesting finding of this study is that complex coral ecosystems were maintained during the less optimal periods of low sea level. These may have been critical to the re-establishment of nearby reefs once environmental conditions began to improve.”

“The fossil record shows that reefs have been remarkably successful in surviving large environmental disturbances. However the combination of drastic environmental changes that we’re seeing today, such as degraded water quality, depleted fish stocks, coral bleaching, ocean acidification and loss of habitat are unprecedented in the history of coral reefs. Although this study clearly highlights the resilience of reef ecosystems, it is important not to underestimate the magnitude of the challenges that reefs are currently facing. “

Prof. Pandolfi says we somehow have to find ways of preventing or offsetting each of these impacts if we expect our reefs to ride out the major climatic changes of the 21st century in as good condition as they have in the past.

Their paper “Community dynamics of Pleistocene coral reefs during alternative climatic regimes”, by Danika Tager, Jody M. Webster, Don Potts, Willem Renema, Juan C. Braga and John M. Pandolfi appears in the latest issue of Ecology, 91(1), 2010, pp. 191–200.

More information:
Professor John Pandolfi, COECRS and UQ, +61 (0)7 3365 3050 or 0400 982 301
Danika Tager, 0406 372 178
Jenny Lappin, CoECRS, +61 (0)7 4781 4222
Jan King, UQ Communications Manager, +61 (0)7 3365 1120

John Pandolfi | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Invasive Insects Cost the World Billions Per Year
04.10.2016 | University of Adelaide

nachricht Malaysia's unique freshwater mussels in danger
27.09.2016 | The University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Ice shelf vibrations cause unusual waves in Antarctic atmosphere

25.10.2016 | Earth Sciences

Fluorescent holography: Upending the world of biological imaging

25.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Etching Microstructures with Lasers

25.10.2016 | Process Engineering

More VideoLinks >>>