Researchers are looking for ways to create a more heat resilient coral to battle the negative impacts of warming oceans. By mixing and matching corals of the same species from different latitudes, the team is hoping to find a way for coral reefs to survive with warming ocean temperatures.
Mikhail Matz, an assistant professor of integrative biology at the University of Texas at Austin, is part of a team that studied studied corals from naturally warmer areas of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and those in cooler water 300 miles to the south. In their studies, the team found the crossbred coral with parents from the warmer waters to the north had a survival rate 10 times greater. The team recently published their findings in the journal Science.
“Corals already have the genetic variance to adapt to changing temperature,” said Mikhail Matz, an assistant professor of integrative biology at the University of Texas at Austin. “It’s just a matter of transporting these mutations from hot locations to locations that will be hot very soon because of global warming.”
A key discovery was that is coral from the north and south were crossbred, the genes for heat tolerance could be passed on. “Not only is heat tolerance heritable, but it’s highly heritable,” Matz said.
Coral larvae can travel great distances in the water before settling down, so crossbreeding will eventually occur naturally. But Matz said humans can speed up the process by 10 to 20 years.