The reefs of Ningaloo are not equipped to deal with future climate change

The reefs of Ningaloo are not equipped to deal with future climate change

According to a new study by Curtin University, populations of relatively pristine coral reefs in the coastal Kimberley region of Washington state are better equipped to survive warming oceans than the World Heritage-listed Ningaloo Marine Park

Despite previous research that predicted coral species would move south into cooler waters to protect themselves, the new study - published in Molecular Ecology - finds that this may not be true on Australia's west coast.

The new study, which investigated coral population connectivity and adaptability, found that corals growing in different reef systems in northwest Australia are genetically isolated from each other.

The results were based on genetic data for the reef-building coral, Acropora digitifera, taken from five known reef systems. The study sought to find out how closely these reef systems are related, and how resilient this coral is to different future climate scenarios in different regions.

Climate change has caused widespread loss of species' biodiversity and ecosystem productivity worldwide, particularly in tropical coral reefs, said lead researcher, Ph.D.

Arne Adam, a Curtin School of Molecular and Life Sciences student. According to him, the findings indicate that corals from northern reefs in Western Australia are isolated from one another, which means corals may be unable to migrate to southern reef areas.

"With separate reefs, corals find it difficult to move between zones," Adam explained. "It is unlikely that reefs will be rescued by new entrant corals from neighboring reefs if a reef dies in one reef."

Mr. Adam stated that previous research had indicated that southern regions would become hotspots for coral biodiversity in the future, but it is unknown whether corals in southern regions have the genetic adaptations required to survive the effects of warming based on this data. ocean quickly.

"We discovered that reefs growing in northern reef areas like coastal Kimberley – including Adele Island and Beagle Reef – are better adapted to future ocean warming, While the reef community on Ningaloo Reef is at risk of losing diversity due to a lack of resources. To survive a warming ocean,” Mr. Adam said.

Dr. Zoe Richards, the senior researcher in the School of Molecular and Life Sciences, said the findings support the idea that Washington's reef systems are geographically isolated and highly adapted to current local environmental conditions.

"This combination of traits could potentially lead to disaster for the Ningaloo Reef system under future extremes of climate scenarios," Dr. Richards said.

"This research helps predict which coral communities will be resilient or vulnerable to future climate change, which is important for cost-effective conservation planning."Data from Ashmore Reef, Rowley Shoals, coastal Kimberley, and coral reefs in the Ningaloo Coast World Heritage Area were included in the study

. It was a collaborative study with scientists at the Australian Institute of Marine Science in Perth (AIMS). This research was funded by the Australian Research Council, Curtin University, and an industry science doctoral grant.

This project's offshore fieldwork was funded by Woodside Energy and Northwest-Shoals to Shore Research, with assistance from Santos Ltd. Data, which were analyzed and interpreted with the financial support of Mr. Adam through a Woodside Coral Reef Research Fellowship.


Materials provided by Curtin University.


Arne A. S. Adam, Luke Thomas, Jim Underwood, James Gilmour, Zoe T. Richards. Population connectivity and genetic offset in the spawning coral Acropora digitifera in Western Australia. Molecular Ecology, 2022; DOI: 10.1111/mec.16498


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