|Mass bleaching seen in June 2010|
on a submerged reef off Pulau Semakau
During a 2010 bleaching episode, James Guest's team studied three coral reef sites. At one in Indonesia that had not bleached previously, corals responded typically to warmer water. There, fast-growing branching coral species—such as Acropora—suffered severe die-offs. But at two sites in Singapore and Malaysia that had bleached in 1998, this pattern was reversed, with normally susceptible Acropora colonies appearing healthy while massive slow-growing corals, such as Porites were heavily damaged.
I first heard about the paper from N. Sivasothi on the Biodiversity Crew@NUS blog. James Guest, until recently, a Lee Kuan Yew post-doctoral research fellow with the Marine Lab at the University of Singapore, published the paper in PLoS ONE.
James told N. Sivasothi enthusiastically that he hopes these stunning images “provides a bit of hopeful news among the general climate change doom and gloom!”
In media reports about the study, James Guest says additional work is needed. "We don't know whether the unusual resistance in the branching corals was due to the host coral or the symbionts or both," he says. They are starting additional studies to learn more about the specific type of zooxanthellae inhabiting the coral that adapted and to try to study the phenomenon in the laboratory. He also cautions that higher water temperatures could still affect the composition and health of reefs. Finding evidence of adaptation "does not mean that the global threat to reefs from climate change has lessened," he says.
Read more in the paper: James R. Guest, Andrew H. Baird, Jeffrey A. Maynard, Efin Muttaqin, Alasdair J. Edwards, Stuart J. Campbell, Katie Yewdall, Yang Amri Affendi, Loke Ming Chou. Contrasting Patterns of Coral Bleaching Susceptibility in 2010 Suggest an Adaptive Response to Thermal Stress. PLoS ONE, 2012; 7 (3): e33353 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0033353