Eating as the key to health
Coral bleaching has severely damaged or killed 30 percent of the world’s coral reefs, turning brightly colored coral a ghostly white. Research shows that some “super-feeding” corals can survive. Photo: Jon Witman/Brown University
Global warming and other threats are killing coral reefs through a phenomenon known as bleaching. But why do some corals survive? A new study, published in Nature, is the first to document a trait that helps some coral species live through, and recover from, bleaching. The survivors’ secret: Ramped up feeding rates.
In an experiment with three species of Hawaiian corals researchers found that, when bleached, the branching coral Montipora capitata sharply increased its intake of tiny plankton, making it much more likely to bounce back. The findings suggest that any coral, regardless of shape or location, may recover from bleaching if it can ramp up feeding.
James Palardy, a Brown University graduate student and co-author of the Nature paper, said the results indicate that these corals may become the dominant species in reefs and could play a role in protecting these critical marine ecosystems.
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