When coral species vanish, their absence can imperil surviving corals

phys.org | 1/23/2019 | Staff
erinmmarion (Posted by) Level 3
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Waves of annihilation have beaten coral reefs down to a fraction of what they were 40 years ago, and what's left may be facing creeping death: The effective extinction of many coral species may be weakening reef systems thus siphoning life out of the corals that remain.

In the shallows off Fiji's Pacific shores, two marine researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology for a new study assembled groups of corals that were all of the same species, i.e. groups without species diversity. When Cody Clements snorkeled down for the first time to check on them, his eyes instantly told him what his data would later reveal.

Species - Plots - Algae - Clements - Rows

"One of the species had entire plots that got wiped out, and they were overgrown with algae," Clements said. "Rows of corals had tissue that was brown—that was dead tissue. Other tissue had turned white and was in the process of dying."

By the end of the 16-month experiment, monocultures had faired obviously worse. And the study had shown via the measurably healthier growth in polycultures that science can begin to quantify biodiversity's contribution to coral survival as well as the effects of biodiversity's disappearance.

Experiment - Result - Investigator - Mary - Hay

"This was a starter experiment to see if we would get an initial result, and we did," said principal investigator Mary Hay, a Regents Professor and Harry and Linda Teasley Chair in Georgia Tech's School of Biological Sciences. "So much reef death over the years has reduced coral species variety and made reefs more homogenous, but science still doesn't understand enough about how coral biodiversity helps reefs survive. We want to know more."

The results of the study appear in the February issue of the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution and were made available online on January 7, 2018. The research was funded by the National Science Foundation, by the National Institutes of...
(Excerpt) Read more at: phys.org
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