Using genetic samples and computer simulations, evolutionary biologists have made a glass-half-full forecast: Corals in the Great Barrier Reef have enough genetic variation to adapt to and survive rising ocean temperatures for at least another century, or more than 50 years longer than previous estimates have suggested.
“It means these corals will still go extinct if we do nothing,” said Mikhail Matz, associate professor in The University of Texas at Austin’s Department of Integrative Biology and lead researcher on the project. “But it also means we have a chance to save them. It buys us time to actually do something about global warming, which is the main problem.”
The results of their work are published in the April 19 edition of the journal PLOS Genetics. Matz’s co-authors are Galina Aglyamova at UT Austin, Eric Treml at the University of Melbourne and Line Bay at the Australian Institute of Marine Science.
The source of the coral’s resilience lies in genetic variations across connected but widely dispersed populations.