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Project Summary

Corals face threats from climate change such as increased sea temperatures. Even small increases above summer average temperature can affect corals. When this happens they lose the symbiotic algae that live in their tissue and provide them with food. Corals that lose symbionts appear white as if they were bleached and may die.  Death due to temperature stress is one of the greatest threats to corals. Climate change can increase the frequency and intensity of these bleaching events.

Some corals may be adapted to thermal stress or may be able to acclimate, however, due to the  environment in which they live, a genetic tolerance to a range of conditions by the coral, of heat tolerant strains of micro algae and bacteria associated with the corals.  In this project we will examine correlation between genetics of the coral “holobiont” – the coral plus associated microalgae and bacteria – and temperature conditions where the corals live. we will also examine how different genetic strains of corals respond to changes in these conditions.

Conservation Implications

Based on the results of this project we will be able to focus conservation efforts on the areas that are best adapted to our changing climate for protection. Larvae from these reefs can replenish surrounding areas and help them recover and adapt to changing conditions. In The Bahamas this information is being used to plan new parks and protected areas. We will also be able to select specific genetic strains for reef restoration efforts to match corals with suitable conditions.

Project Partners

  • University of Miami
  • The Nature Conservancy