1

People and ecosystems

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

2

Ecosystem dynamics: past, present and future

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

3

Responding to a changing world

Advancing the fundamental understanding of the key processes underpinning reef resilience.

Coral Bleaching

Coral Bleaching

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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New research into the impact of climate change has found that warming oceans will cause profound changes in the global distribution of marine biodiversity.

In a study published in the journal Nature Climate Change an international research team modelled the impacts of a changing climate on the distribution of almost 13 thousand marine species, more than twelve times as many species as previously studied.

The study found that a rapidly warming climate would cause many species to expand into new regions, which would impact on native species, while others with restricted ranges, particularly those around the tropics, are more likely to face extinction.

Professor John Pandolfi from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at the University of Queensland says global patterns of species richness will change significantly, with considerable regional variability.

“This study was particularly useful because it not only gave us hope that species have the potential to track and follow changing climates but it also gave us cause for concern, particularly in the tropics, where strong biodiversity losses were predicted,” says Professor Pandolfi.

“This is especially worrying, and highly germane to Australia’s coral reefs, because complementary studies have shown high levels of extinction risk in tropical biotas, where localized human impacts as well as climate change have resulted in substantial degradation.”

To model the projected impact of climate change on marine biodiversity, the researchers used climate-velocity trajectories, a measurement which combines the rate and direction of movement of ocean temperature bands over time, together with information about thermal tolerance and habitat preference.

They say the analysis provides the simplest expectation for the future distribution of marine biodiversity, showing recurring spatial patterns of high rates of species invasions coupled with local extinctions.

Professor Elvira Poloczanska from CSIRO says, “This study shows how climate change will mix up biodiversity patterns in the ocean. Ecological communities which are currently distinct, will become more similar to each other in many regions by the end of the century”

Dr David Schoeman from the University of the Sunshine Coast says the model suggests that there is still time to act to prevent major climate-related extinctions outside of the topics.

“Results under a scenario in which we start actively mitigating climate change over the next few decades indicates substantially fewer extinctions than results from a business-as-usual scenario,” Dr Schoeman says.

“Possibly more worrying, though, is the imminent development of novel biotic assemblages. We have little idea of how these new combinations of species in ocean systems around the world will affect ecosystem services, like fisheries. We should be prioritising ecological research aimed specifically at addressing this question.”

Professor Pandolfi warns the resultant novel combinations of resident and migrant species will present unprecedented challenges for conservation planning.

“Above all, this study shows the broad geographic connections of the effects of climate change – conservation efforts need to be facilitated by cooperation among countries to have any real chance of combating the potentially severe biodiversity losses that a changing climate might impose.”

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Paper

The paper, Climate velocity and the future of global redistribution of marine biodiversity by Jorge Garcia Molinos, Benjamin S. Halpern, David S. Schoeman, Christopher J. Brown, Wolfgang Kiessling, Pippa J. Moore, John M. Pandolfi, Elvira S. Poloczanska, Anthony J. Richardson and Michael T. Burrows is published in the journal Nature Climate Change http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2769

Contact
Professor John Pandolfi, j.pandolfi@uq.edu.au, +61 (0) 400 982 301
Professor Elvira Poloczanska, Elvira.poloczanska@csiro.au, +61 (0) 428 741 328
Dr David Schoeman, dschoema@usc.edu.au, +61 (0) 423 982 898
Eleanor Gregory (media), eleanor.gregory@jcu.edu.au

In a world first study, researchers at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (Coral CoE) at James Cook University have unlocked the genetic mystery of why some species are able to adjust to warming oceans.

Adaptation to warmer water happens in the genes. Image: H. Veilleux

In a collaborative project with scientists from the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia, the researchers examined how reef fish’s genes responded after several generations living at higher temperatures.

“Some fish have a remarkable capacity to adjust to higher water temperatures over a few generations of exposure,” says Dr Heather Veilleux from the Coral CoE.

“But until now, how they do this has been a mystery.”

Using cutting-edge molecular tools the research team identified 53 key genes that are involved in long-term, multi-generational acclimation to higher temperatures.

“By understanding the function of these genes we can understand how fish cope with higher temperatures,” explains Dr Veilleux.

“We found that shifts in energy production are key to maintaining performance at high temperatures,” says Dr Veilleux.

“Immune and stress responses also helped fish cope with warmer water.”

The project involved rearing coral reef fish at different temperatures for multiple generations in purpose-built facilities at James Cook University.

“We then used state-of-the-art genetic methods to examine gene function in the fish,” says Dr Tim Ravasi from KAUST.

“ By matching gene expression to metabolic performance of the fish we were able to identify which genes make acclimation to higher temperatures possible,” adds Professor Philip Munday from the Coral CoE.

The study is the first to reveal the molecular processes that may help coral reef fishes and other marine species adjust to warmer conditions in the future.

“Understanding which genes are involved in transgenerational acclimation, and how their expression is regulated, will improve our understanding of adaptive responses to rapid environmental change and help identify which species are most at risk from climate change and which species are more tolerant,” Dr Veilleux says.

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Paper:

Molecular processes of transgenerational acclimation to a warming ocean, by Heather D. Veilleux, Taewoo Ryu, Jennifer M. Donelson, Lynne van Herwerden, Loqmane Seridi, Yanal Ghosheh, Michael L. Berumen, William Leggat, Timothy Ravasi and Philip Munday is published in the journal Nature Climate Change.
http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2724

Images:

https://www.dropbox.com/sh/iaux0wgljooc1yu/AABxiMtWe6m_W3N0U0KpVWTYa?dl=0

(Images must carry credits as listed in Dropbox folder)

Contacts:

Dr Heather Veilleux – heather.veilleux@jcu.edu.au, +61 7 47814850ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies

Professor Philip Munday – Philip.munday@jcu.edu.au, +61 (0) 7 47815341ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies

Professor Timothy Ravasi – timothy.ravasi@kaust.edu.sa +966-544700067
KAUST Environmental Epigenetic Program (KEEP) and the Red Sea Research Center

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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