Nav: Home

Immunity could be key to addressing coral crisis

July 09, 2018

Coral reefs support a quarter of all marine life, feed hundreds of millions of people and contribute vastly to the global economy. But they are dying in mass bleaching events, as climate change warms our oceans and breaks down vital relationships between corals and energy-providing algae.

A new commentary, published in Nature's Communications Biology, provides hope that a shift in research focus towards coral immunity will support reef conservation and restoration efforts.

Dr Caroline Palmer, Visiting Research Fellow at the University of Plymouth, has spent more than a decade examining coral health from an immunological perspective.

In particular, she has identified coral immune mechanisms and sought to understand what enables some corals to survive while others die. This led Dr Palmer to discover that corals with higher immune defences are less likely to become diseased or to bleach.

In her latest work, she expands on this observation, drawing on a theory from insects that explains how corals might coexist with specific microorganisms, as a 'holobiont', while resisting infection or other disturbances.

Dr Palmer also presents a model of coral susceptibility, whereby investing in immunity enables coral, with its microorganisms, to tolerate more damage before initiating an immune response. This model describes how coral tolerance may vary among corals indicating their susceptibility to disturbances, such as bleaching events.

"There is no question that climate change is devastating coral reef systems. But if we are to conserve or restore them, we need to understand coral health - what drives tolerance and how can we promote it," Dr Palmer says. "If you have a strong immune system, and the energy to support it, you are more likely to be healthy and to survive adverse conditions."

Dr Palmer first started examining the immune systems of reef-building corals more than a decade ago, and her PhD was the first research to look at the subject in depth. But she says that coral immunity remains an under-studied area of research.

Coral bleaching, on the other hand, has been a research focus for decades, though is often considered distinct from immunity - Dr Palmer, however, suggests it is a component of coral holobiont immunity.

Dr Palmer also proposes an immunological model by which corals may increase their tolerance to adverse conditions - suggesting a way coral may adapt to new, more extreme, conditions.

Dr Palmer, who is currently Lead Scientist on the Seeking Survivors project examining coral health in Costa Rica, added: "Coral biologists are racing to conserve coral reefs before it's too late. There is currently a lot of interest in creating more tolerant corals through genetic engineering and of restoring reefs by targeting more resilient corals. I fully support these approaches, but believe understanding what drives coral health will be key to their success."
-end-


University of Plymouth

Related Climate Change Articles:

A CERN for climate change
In a Perspective article appearing in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Tim Palmer (Oxford University), and Bjorn Stevens (Max Planck Society), critically reflect on the present state of Earth system modelling.
Fairy-wrens change breeding habits to cope with climate change
Warmer temperatures linked to climate change are having a big impact on the breeding habits of one of Australia's most recognisable bird species, according to researchers at The Australian National University (ANU).
Believing in climate change doesn't mean you are preparing for climate change, study finds
Notre Dame researchers found that although coastal homeowners may perceive a worsening of climate change-related hazards, these attitudes are largely unrelated to a homeowner's expectations of actual home damage.
Older forests resist change -- climate change, that is
Older forests in eastern North America are less vulnerable to climate change than younger forests, particularly for carbon storage, timber production, and biodiversity, new research finds.
Could climate change cause infertility?
A number of plant and animal species could find it increasingly difficult to reproduce if climate change worsens and global temperatures become more extreme -- a stark warning highlighted by new scientific research.
Predicting climate change
Thomas Crowther, ETH Zurich identifies long-disappeared forests available for restoration across the world.
Historical climate important for soil responses to future climate change
Researchers at Lund University in Sweden, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Amsterdam, examined how 18 years of drought affect the billions of vital bacteria that are hidden in the soil beneath our feet.
Can forests save us from climate change?
Additional climate benefits through sustainable forest management will be modest and local rather than global.
From crystals to climate: 'Gold standard' timeline links flood basalts to climate change
Princeton geologists used tiny zircon crystals found in volcanic ash to rewrite the timeline for the eruptions of the Columbia River flood basalts, a series of massive lava flows that coincided with an ancient global warming period 16 million years ago.
Think pink for a better view of climate change
A new study says pink noise may be the key to separating out natural climate variability from climate change that is influenced by human activity.
More Climate Change News and Climate Change Current Events

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2019.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

In & Out Of Love
We think of love as a mysterious, unknowable force. Something that happens to us. But what if we could control it? This hour, TED speakers on whether we can decide to fall in — and out of — love. Guests include writer Mandy Len Catron, biological anthropologist Helen Fisher, musician Dessa, One Love CEO Katie Hood, and psychologist Guy Winch.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#543 Give a Nerd a Gift
Yup, you guessed it... it's Science for the People's annual holiday episode that helps you figure out what sciency books and gifts to get that special nerd on your list. Or maybe you're looking to build up your reading list for the holiday break and a geeky Christmas sweater to wear to an upcoming party. Returning are pop-science power-readers John Dupuis and Joanne Manaster to dish on the best science books they read this past year. And Rachelle Saunders and Bethany Brookshire squee in delight over some truly delightful science-themed non-book objects for those whose bookshelves are already full. Since...
Now Playing: Radiolab

An Announcement from Radiolab