Isolated corals reefs are at risk from global climate change

For species such as corals the dispersal of their larvae and restocking of damaged reefs is critical to their ability to survive the changes produced by global warming.

In the latest issue of Ecology Letters, David Ayre and Terry Hughes from the Australia’s Wollongong and James Cook Universities have for the first time used genetic data to show that individual coral reefs within the world’s largest tropical reef system (the Great Barrier Reef) must be buffered against such change by strong larval connections.

This may occur in a stepping stone fashion between adjacent reefs. In contrast they found that at Lord Howe Island 700 km south and the southernmost Pacific Ocean Reef, corals have little of the genetic diversity needed to respond to change and appear to have no current connection to the Great Barrier Reef. The virtual absence of long-distance distance dispersal of corals to geographically isolated reefs makes them extremely vulnerable to global warming.

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Kate Stinchcombe Blackwell Publishing Ltd

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