University of California in Santa Barbara scientists found that coral reefs that inhabit warm waters easily adapt to fluctuations in water temperatures.
Environmentalists alarmed the dangers that coral reefs face as these are temperature-sensitive. This includes the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.
It has been found that not all coral reefs are prone to bleaching due to thermal stress.
"I think most people probably think that you would see more bleaching in places where it's warmer year-round, and that was one of my assumptions as well," explains Deron Burkepile, a biologist at the University of California in Santa Barbara, who was a co-author of a new study in the journal Nature Communications.
Coral reefs are endangered with mass bleaching. The findings of the researchers were contrary to this belief. According to Sustainability Times, "Burkepile and his colleague examined records with field observations of coral bleaching at 3,351 sites from across 81 countries between 1998 through 2017. They found that mass bleaching episodes tended to be less severe in tropical waters close to the equator and in regions with naturally high surface temperature variability."
Any form of environmental stress, including the rise in temperature, result in the shedding of symbiotic algae by corals. Algae protect coral reefs and once these are shed, the remaining skeletal structures are prone to stress.
It seems that corals that naturally thrive in warm waters and those with fluctuating high temperatures have the greater capacity to withstand stress and will not bleach easily.
"Think of someone from New York, where it gets really cold in the winter but it's also really hot in the summer. They have different wardrobes - coats, boots hats, shorts, sandals - and they can adapt to the changing weather," explains Mary Donovan, a postdoctoral researcher who was a coauthor of the study. "Compare this to someone who lives in the Caribbean and only has shorts; if it got cold they'd be out of luck."
The researchers showed that corals who thrive in warm temperatures have higher adaptability. This presumes that corals follow natural selection and have replaced those who cannot adapt to thermal stress.
This present scenario does not imply that corals will continue to survive the rising water temperatures. "Coral reefs are not out of the woods," Burkepile cautions. "They are under extreme threat in the near-term - the next few decades to century - from climate change."
Environmental experts are trying to halt a massive decline of corals by producing corals that are resilient to climate change in laboratories.