Heat-resilient algae offer hope for coral reefs

– July 23, 2023

The world is in the grip of climate change, and ocean temperatures are currently rising to staggering heights, with all the consequences for the ecosystem. News reports of coral bleaching are becoming more common – the corals often do not survive the extreme heat. However, a groundbreaking study at Pennsylvania State University offers a glimmer of hope: a thermotolerant algae can help corals survive.

Coral and algae rely on each other

The algae in question is Durusdinium glynnii, a dinoflagellate that derives energy from sunlight. Dinoflagellates are microscopic algae, some of which live in symbiosis with corals. This is a long-term form of coexistence known in biology as symbiosis. The species involved in this symbiosis are called symbionts. Corals and algae are so dependent on each other that they cannot survive separately.

Thermotolerant corals thrive

The dinoflagellate symbionts vary in their ability to withstand high temperatures. Although scientists have long been aware of the existence of thermotolerant symbionts, it was previously thought that corals with thermotolerant algae grow poorly. This study has shown that Durusdinium glynnii does not have any adverse effects on coral growth.

Rainforests of the ocean

The current study demonstrates the importance of symbiosis for the resilience of coral ecosystems. Corals are often referred to as the rainforests of the ocean. Like rainforests, corals are one of the most biodiverse places on Earth. Although corals cover only 0.2% of the ocean surface, they host 25% of all marine life.

More info

Autor: Corinne Mulder