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Global warming and how the spread of a rare algae species may benefit coral reefs

"A rare opportunity has allowed a team of biologists to evaluate corals and the essential, photosynthetic algae that live inside their cells before, during, and after a period in 2005 when global warming caused sea-surface temperatures in the Caribbean Ocean to rise.

The team, led by Penn State Assistant Professor of Biology Todd LaJeunesse, found that a rare species of algae that is tolerant of stressful environmental conditions proliferated in corals as the more-sensitive algae were being expelled from corals.

"Symbiodinium trenchi is normally a rare species of micro-alga in the Caribbean," said LaJeunesse. "Because the species is apparently tolerant of high or fluctuating temperatures, it was able to take advantage of the warming event and become more prolific. In this way, Symbiodinium trenchi appears to have saved certain colonies of coral from the damaging effects of unusually warm water. As ocean temperatures continue to rise as a result of global warming, we can expect this species to become more common and persistent. However, since it is not normally associated with corals in the Caribbean, we don't know if its increased presence will benefit or harm corals in the long term."

The results will be published in the online version of the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B on 9 September 2009.
 
 

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