Good news for reef health as some algae adjusts to climate change

Posted 6 April 2017

Coralline algalNew research has found that some species of coralline algae – crucial builders of reef ecosystems – aren’t as negatively affected by climate change as previously thought.  

Coralline algae are important to the ecological health of reef ecosystems because they form a calcified skeleton that binds reefs together. 

The study, conducted by researchers from the University of Western Australia’s Indian Ocean Marine Research Centre, found some species show greater tolerance for ocean acidification by adjusting their internal chemistry. 

“Ocean acidification is a major threat to coralline algal-dominated reefs in both temperate and tropical ecosystems,” said researcher Dr Christopher Cornwall.

“This study is the first to try to understand why there is a variation in the way different types of coralline algae respond to ocean acidification and examine how coralline algae can change its internal chemistry to make it favourable for forming their calcium carbonate skeleton.”

The study has provided valuable insight into the result of climate change on the health of reefs. Although some species were able to adapt to changing pH levels, all species showed some level of impact.

“Understanding some of the response mechanisms gives scientists the ability to predict how different species and reefs might be affected by ocean acidification in the future,” Cornwall said.

“The next step is to identify how the environment in which coralline algae live changes the way they elevate pH within their internal calcifying environment, and how this influences calcification and growth,” Cornwall said. 

“For example, if they live in habitats where CO2 levels daily reach those comparable with what we expect to occur due to ocean acidification, this could mean they are already preconditioned to tolerate ocean acidification.”