New research indicates older species of coral have more of what it takes to survive a warming and increasingly polluted climate, according to biologists from UT Arlington and the University of Puerto Rico - Mayagüez.
The researchers examined 140 samples of 14 species of Caribbean corals for a study published by the open-access journal PLOS ONE this week.
Jorge H. Pinzón C., a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Biology is lead author on the study. Co-authors are Laura Mydlarz, associate professor of biology, Joshuah Beach-Letendre, a former masters student in the Mydlarz lab and Ernesto Weil, professor in marine sciences at the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez.
The team looked at the number of diseases affecting each species over the years and tested the species’ base-level immunity in the lab to determine whether a “phylogenic signal” existed. A phylogenetic signal is when organisms in closely related species have characteristics that are more similar to each other than they are to more distant species.
“Species that have been around over longer periods of time have been exposed to more environmental and biological stressors, and they have survived, so it seems logical to expect that they would have better base immunity or be better adapted to respond to new stresses” said Weil.
Mydlarz added: “Our interest is in making sense of these disease patterns. The bottom line is, the older coral species are doing better.”
The National Science Foundation funds both Weil and Mydlarz and Weil also received support from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Coral reefs around the world are vital to ocean diversity and health, as well as to millions of families and many industries such as fishing and tourism that benefit from the ecological services they provide. But, their health is threatened by pollution, overfishing and climate change. These stressors have weakened coral defenses and made some species more susceptible to diseases, such as white plague and yellow band diseases.