Skip to main content

In Photos: Coral Species May Adapt to Warmer Waters

Corals and heat tolerance

An image of corals

(Image credit: Image courtesy of Steve Palumbi)

Coral reefs tend to be vulnerable to damage from warmer waters, but at least one coral species may be able to adapt to the higher ocean temperatures that may come with climate change.

Warmer waters

An image of corals

(Image credit: Image courtesy of Steve Palumbi)

Researchers took branches of coral called Acropora hyacinthus from tide pools of different temperatures and found that the branches taken from a warmer tide pool fared better in a heat-stress test than branches taken from a slightly cooler pool.

Coral survival

An image of corals

(Image credit: Image courtesy of Steve Palumbi)

The results show that corals that live in warmer waters do develop a better ability than cooler-water corals to survive in the face of rising temperatures — a sign that corals can adapt over time to a changing environment, according to the researchers.

Colonies that adjust

An image of corals

(Image credit: Image courtesy of Steve Palumbi)

"We found that [all] these coral colonies can adjust their physiology to become more heat tolerant," said study author Stephen Palumbi, a professor at Stanford University.

Coral physiology and genetics

An image of corals

(Image credit: Image courtesy of Steve Palumbi)

"We were able to show that corals that live naturally in a warmer environment have the right genes to be able to do even better in that warmer environment," Palumbi said. "But even the cold-water living corals had the ability to adjust their physiology to be more heat-tolerant," he said.