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Understanding of the links between coral reef ecosystems, the goods and services they provide to people, and the wellbeing of human societies.

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Examining the multi-scale dynamics of reefs, from population dynamics to macroevolution

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Coral Reef Studies

ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies
James Cook University Townsville
Queensland 4811 Australia

Phone: 61 7 4781 4000
Email: info@coralcoe.org.au

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Reef-building algae adjusts internal chemistry in response to climate change

03
Apr 2017

Researchers from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (Coral CoE) have discovered that coralline algae, critical for the formation and maintenance of coral reefs, is able to adjust its internal chemistry favourably in response to ocean acidification.

Coralline algae are ecologically important. They form calcified skeletons for reefs by producing calcium carbonate, which acts as a “glue” to bind reefs together. However, rising levels of ocean acidity, as a result of human-induced climate change, is threatening this process.

The Coral CoE researchers based at the University of Western Australia, Dr. Christopher Cornwall, Dr. Steeve Comeau, and Professor Malcolm McCulloch, discovered that although coralline algae can be badly impacted as carbon dioxide (CO2) levels rise, some species show a greater tolerance than previously thought.

“Ocean acidification is a major threat to coralline algal dominated reefs in both temperate and tropical ecosystems,” Dr. Cornwall said.

“This study is the first to try to understand why there is a variation in the way different types of coralline algae respond to ocean acidification.”

“It examines how coralline algae can change its internal chemistry to make it favourable for forming their calcium carbonate skeleton.”

Even though some species have a greater tolerance to ocean acidification than others, remarkably, the researchers found all coralline algae showed some form of adaptation.

“Coralline algae form extensive reefs in northern Western Australia, and also bind together other reefs from the tropics to the poles,” Dr. Cornwall said. “The coralline algal species that can retain a high pH within their internal calcifying fluid could continue to calcify in future oceans impacted by ocean acidification.”

“Our findings mean that there is some hope for the future.”

This research has been published in Global Change Biology http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/gcb.13673/epdf

MEDIA REFERENCE

Jess Reid, UWA Media and PR Officer, jess.reid@uwa.edu.au, (+61 8) 6488 6876
Dr. Christopher Cornwall, UWA Research Fellow, christopher.cornwall@uwa.edu.au, (+61 8) 6488 5010

Upright and crustose corallines with abalone covered in corallines. Credit: Christopher Cornwall.
Upright and crustose corallines with abalone covered in corallines. Credit: Christopher Cornwall.

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Coral Reef Studies

ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies
James Cook University Townsville
Queensland 4811 Australia

Phone: 61 7 4781 4000
Email: info@coralcoe.org.au