Scientists try to understand why reefs collapse

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Research carried out on coral biology is helping scientists understand what makes coral reefs collapse, according to a report published in a recent issue of the journal Science.

Corals exhibit a genomic complexity that rivals that of humans, and the key to their survival is an intricate system of biological communication with the symbiotic algae living within their bodies, report Virginia Weis and Denis Allemand.

According to Weis, Even though the coral depends on the algae for much of its food, it may be largely unaware of its presence. We now believe that this is what's happening when the water warms or something else stresses the coral " the communication from the algae to the coral breaks down, the all-is-well message doesn't get through, the algae essentially comes out of hiding and faces an immune response from the coral.

With some of the new findings about coral symbiosis and calcification, and how it works, coral biologists are now starting to think more outside the box. Maybe there's something we could do to help identify and protect coral species that can survive in different conditions. Perhaps we won't have to just stand by as the coral reefs of the world die and disappear.

For more information, see the paper: Weis, VM and D Allemand (2009) What determines coral health? Science 324, pp. 1153"1155.