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Parental experience may help coral offspring survive climate change

Corals have been suffering huge losses in diversity and abundance on reefs worldwide due to local stressors such as overfishing, coastal development, pollution and sedimentation, for example. Further, global stressors such as increased temperature result in coral bleaching—a breakdown in the symbiosis between the cnidarian host and the symbiotic algae—which can cause mass coral mortality. A new study reveals that preconditioning adult corals to increased temperature and ocean acidification resulted in offspring that may be better able to handle those future environmental stressors. This rapid trans-generational acclimatization may be able to “buy time” for corals in the race against climate change. Researchers exposed two groups of parental corals to either ambient ocean conditions or Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change-predicted future ocean conditions—warmer and more acidic water. As expected, the harsher future conditions negatively affected the health of the parental coral—lowering photosynthesis and production to consumption ratios. Surprisingly, however, the offspring of parents who were exposed to future conditions appeared healthier when re-exposed to the harsher environment.

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