17 August 2010

Iconic coral species the most vulnerable to bleaching

Evan Schwarten AAP Sydney Morning Herald 17 Aug 10;

The Great Barrier Reef's dominant coral species are among the most vulnerable to the effects of global warming, a new study has found.

A groundbreaking study into the immunity of coral species has found the iconic Acroporidae family to be among the most susceptible to outbreaks of disease or bleaching.

Acroporidae, also known as "reef building" coral for its role in the development of reefs, is among the most prevalent found in the Great Barrier Reef.

The branched structure and size of Acroporidae colonies makes it among the most recognisable coral species in the world.

The study by scientists from James Cook University and the Australian Research Centre ranked 17 coral species found on the reef according to their immunity.

It found species from the Acroporidae and Pocilloporidae families ranked at the bottom of the scale, putting them at the most risk of bleaching or disease - both of which have been linked to global warming.

However, study leader Caroline Palmer said the Acroporidae corals were also among the fastest growing and most abundant species.

They were, therefore, the most likely to survive as a species, even if individual colonies die.

"When a mass bleaching event hits they are one of the most affected species of coral but they seem to be bouncing back in a lot of places," she said.

"They can reproduced faster so that when they are knocked back they can grow back a lot faster."

She said immunity levels appeared to be linked to the amount of energy a species assigned to it.

Some, like the Acroporidae, directed more energy towards growth reproduction, while other species had a slower growth rate but higher levels of immunity.

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