Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Caribbean Coral Reef Genetic Diversity may allow them to adapt to Climate Change

There are many species of corals in the Caribbean today, however this is probably only about half of what there used to be as half of all the coral species in the Caribbean went extinct between 1 and 2 million years ago and this was due to drastic environmental change in the conditions for which they are present. The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute believes that one specific genus, Orbicella which was among the survivors of these environmental conditions will continue to adapt to climate change such as global warming. This is believed because this genus has high genetic diversity.

Fossils were collected from ancient coral reef systems and compared numbers of species at different time points. One of the best represented genus throughout time is Orbicella. In addition to looking at the fossil record, the researchers used genome sequencing to estimate past numbers of many species of Orbicella. This was done by taking one of two genetic material copies within an individual, sometimes one copy is different than the other and this is called a genetic variant. After sequencing the whole genome for a species currently found in Florida they were able to use this as a starting point and reconstruct genetic variation found in other individuals of past and present. With this information they were able to find the sizes of populations of different species throughout the past. This research showed Orbicella has been present in large quantities throughout time and has adapted to changes in its surrounding environment. This could be groundbreaking as many people believed coral reefs could be completely decimated in years to come with the effects of global warming. This study gives hope that maybe some can adapt to the more harsh conditions and allow for corals to be viewable by future generations.

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