Coral reefs are delicate ecosystems that are particularly sensitive to human influences such as climate change and environmental pollution.
Coral reefs are delicate ecosystems that are particularly sensitive to human influences such as climate change and environmental pollution. Even if the warming of the earth does not exceed 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius – a limit set by the International Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) – more than 70 percent of coral reef ecosystems are likely to be lost, resulting in an economic and ecological catastrophe.
How do corals adapt to changing environmental conditions? How can we protect corals? Christian Voolstra, Professor of Genetics of Adaptation in Aquatic Systems at the University of Konstanz, assigns great importance to bacteria and other microorganisms. He emphasizes that no animal or plant lives alone – they are constantly interacting with bacteria and other microbes. Researchers call this a metaorganism – a tribute to the notion that all animal and plant hosts interact closely with their associated microbes. Corals are particular illustrative examples of metaorganisms, given that their association with photosynthetic microbial algae allows them to live like sessile plants. Since corals are bound to the place they settle, they have no choice but to adjust to the local environmental conditions. Bacteria and other microorganisms help with this by playing roles in the nutrition, metabolism and immune defence of a coral.
Read more at University of Konstanz
Image: This is a shallow coral reef in the Central Red Sea. (Credit: Anna Roik)