Coral reefs build one of the most diverse, fascinating and productive ecosystems on the planet. However, these biological structures are also highly sensitive to the adverse effects of the current climate crisis. Phenomena such as progressive bleaching and massive mortality of coral affect the marine ecosystems of the planet and endanger the future of these communities. In this context, the School of Aquatic and Fishery Science (SAFS), together with the University of Barcelona (Spain), is leading CoralChange, a project that will assess for the first time the role of larval reproduction and ecology on the long term dynamics and viability of the threatened coral populations worldwide. To do so, CoralChange counts on the funding from the European Union, and in particular from the Horizon 2020 Marie Skłodowska-Curie action fellowship. The project is coordinated by the lecturer Cristina Linares, from the University of Barcelona and assistant professor Jacqueline Padilla-Gamiño, here at SAFS. Núria Viladrich a post-doctoral researcher in the Padilla-Gamiño lab, will analyze from 2020 to 2022, the global change-induced transgenerational effects in hexacorallia and octocorals in the Caribbean.
Protecting corals from the effects of global change
With an innovative perspective, CoralChange will promote knowledge on the future of coral populations using demographical models applied to different global change scenarios. In this line, researcher Núria Viladrich will work on a series of demographic prediction models, with experimental data and field work, that will include parameters on the physiological condition, trophic plasticity, reproductive success and larval viability of corals. The project will also consider other aspects of these organisms, such as the additional energy cost of the coral ability to adjust their physiology (acclimation) and keep the biological activity under environmental change conditions. The CoralChange approach will enable the identification of potential energy costs of adaptive mechanisms regarding the ocean acidification and warming that can damage the early life stages of coral when they are at their most vulnerable. This energy cost could cause effects on the viability of the future descendants of the coral populations which are now threatened. The results of the project will be crucial to develop effective management and conservation strategies to protect coral reefs under different factors of environmental stress, as well as to identify the coral populations and species with more chances to survive under future marine environmental conditions.