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Study shows corals can be trained to be tougher

By Tim Wijgerde, PhD Posted Oct 16, 2017 09:00 AM
My colleagues and I just published a new study about the effect of light on bleaching sensitivity in the reef coral Stylophora pistillata. We found that when corals are exposed to higher light levels, they become more tolerant to high water temperatures.
Study shows corals can be trained to be tougher

Stylophora pistillata: A favorite "lab rat" among coral researchers.

High water temperatures (>30 degrees Celsius) are known to cause coral bleaching, which is a loss of symbiotic zooxanthellae and colourful pigments. This often occurs during summer, when water temperatures are high. Bleaching is often fatal to the corals, so understanding more about it is important.

Although we did not find increased bleaching tolerance after exposure to higher light levels, we did discover that corals become tougher, showing less necrosis (tissue loss) during a "heat wave" with water temperatures of ~33 degrees Celsius (~91 degrees Fahrenheit).

In other words, you can train corals to become tougher! First you expose them to light stress, after which they can deal better with heat stress. This probably relates to certain stress enzymes, which corals likely produce in higher amounts during stressful periods.

Our study was published today in the academic journal PeerJ:


An example of a lab setup (here at Wageningen University) where corals are exposed to various environmental conditions

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