The Great Barrier Reef may be more resilient to sea surface temperature change than previously thought, according to a study published in Nature Communications.The Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area is the world’s largest coral reef system and represents a unique ecosystem that has evolved over hundreds of thousands of years. Despite this, there are fears that an increase in average summer temperatures by more than 1°C will result in thermal stress, coral bleaching and death. A better understanding of how these corals adapted in the past is first needed before we can judge their potential response to future climate change.
Thomas Felis and colleagues investigate the response of Great Barrier Reef corals at the end of the last ice age, when global temperatures rose significantly. Through the analysis of fossil coral geochemistry, the team show that, between 20,000 and 13,000 years ago, corals survived and adapted to temperature changes of several degrees-much larger than previously recognised.
Researchers note, however, that Great Barrier Reef corals adapted to these temperature changes over a period of several thousand years and suggest that further work is required to determine the timescales required to adapt to future warming.