Good bacteria vital to coral reef survival

June 23, 2016
Bleached and unbleached coral close-up. Credit: Raphael Ritson-Williams

Scientists say good bacteria could be the key to keeping coral healthy, able to withstand the impacts of global warming and to secure the long-term survival of reefs worldwide.

"Healthy corals interact with complex communities of beneficial microbes or 'good bacteria'," says Dr. Tracy Ainsworth from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University who led the study. "It is very likely that these microorganisms play a pivotal role in the capacity of to recover from bouts of bleaching caused by rising temperatures."

"Facilitating coral survival and promoting coral recovery are growing areas of research for coral reef scientists," says co-author Dr. Ruth Gates from Hawai'i Institute of Marine Biology, University of Hawai'i. "To do this we need to explore and understand the bacteria that help keep corals and coral reefs healthy."

Dr. Ainsworth and Dr. Gates have identified new directions for research in understanding coral survival in rapidly changing reef environments.

"We know that lasting changes to the community of beneficial bacteria affects important aspects of the function of host organisms such as humans or corals, including their ability to withstand further stress," says Dr. Ainsworth.

Starfish are surrounded by decomposing coral on the Great Barrier Reef, captured by the XL Catlin Seaview Survey at Lizard Island in May 2016. Credit: The XL Catlin Seaview Survey

"Corals rely on good bacteria but crucially we don't yet understand these microbes well enough to know how they influence coral survival."

Their latest research has been published in the journal Science, and gives an overview of the current understanding of bacterial communities on corals. It highlights the vital importance of good bacteria to coral health.

The scientists discuss how corals, and coral reefs that survive large-scale changes in the environment over the coming decades, are likely to be very different from those of today.

They say the interaction between corals and is crucial to long-term survival.

Their work comes from recent advances in understanding the complexity of the coral's genetic make-up and the unique bacterial communities that corals maintain.

"Preventing physical contact with corals and maintaining high water quality on reefs during stress events will reduce stress loads on corals and creates the best case scenario for survival and recovery," says Dr. Gates.

Explore further: Heat sickens corals in global bleaching event

More information: "Corals' microbial sentinels," Science, DOI: 10.1126/science.aad9957

Related Stories

Heat sickens corals in global bleaching event

June 20, 2016

Death is only one possible outcome from coral bleaching caused by rising sea temperatures due to global warming. Australian scientists report that many surviving corals affected by mass bleaching from high sea temperatures ...

Researchers provide new insights on coral bleaching

June 22, 2016

Reef-building corals have a symbiotic relationship with Symbiodinium algae, and environmental stressors that cause algae to be expelled from reefs can give rise to the phenomenon known as coral bleaching.

Things to know about coral reefs and their importance

June 21, 2016

More than 2,000 international reef scientists, policymakers and stakeholders are gathering in Hawaii this week to discuss what to do about the global decline of coral reefs. The International Coral Reef Symposium convened ...

Promiscuity may help some corals survive bleaching events

April 20, 2016

Researchers have shown for the first time that some corals surviving bleaching events can acquire and host new types of algae from their environment, which may make the coral more heat-tolerant and enhance their recovery.

Recommended for you

The world needs to rethink the value of water

November 23, 2017

Research led by Oxford University highlights the accelerating pressure on measuring, monitoring and managing water locally and globally. A new four-part framework is proposed to value water for sustainable development to ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.