Research to hedge bets on coral climate survival

Providing the best possible chance of survival for coral in Australia’s warming reefs has become an easier task for scientists.

As reefs around the world deteriorate due to global warming, new research could help scientists decide which species are the most important to invest finite resources into.

University of Melbourne and Australian Institute of Marine Science’s Madeleine van Oppen said conservation programs with limited funds wanted to focus on the species that delivered the “most ecosystem bang for its buck”.

With more than 600 different species of coral on the Great Barrier Reef alone, the research, published in the Journal of Applied Ecology on Tuesday, will help narrow the selection process.

“This is the process of pretty much trying to buy time for corals so that we can preserve diversity on the reef until the world has dealt with climate change,” Prof van Oppen told AAP.

“It will pick the best set of species to best support the services that the reef provides.”

Researchers combined databases of the Great Barrier Reef with their ecological characteristics, including their resistance to thermal bleaching, to see how best to select sets of species for restoration.

They used a “hedging” approach, similar to that used for managing investment portfolios.

The study’s lead author, Joshua Madin of the Hawai’i Institute of Marine Biology, said it was essential to ensure species diversity and ecosystem function in future coral reefs.

“Selection based on ecological characteristics is important for hedging against future species loss, whereas trait diversity is important for hedging against the loss of certain ecosystem services, reef-building groups, life history categories, and evolutionary variety,” he said.


Mibenge Nsenduluka
(Australian Associated Press)


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