Coral Has 'Tree Rings', And They Might Help Us Save The Great Barrier Reef

By Gizmodo Australia on at

"Skeletal banding" is to coral what rings are to trees - and Australian scientists have discovered them in a species of coral that is critical to reef-building.

The banding can show everything from how fast coral is growing and how old it really is (and how long it will live for) to what the environment was like in the past, and how the coral reacted to it.

Created by changes in skeletal mineralogy and density as well as reproductive structures, this research is the first time these "rings" have been studied in tropical reef building species from the Great Barrier Reef.

"Variations in the spacing in between the bands may reflect a change in the environment. Understanding this could help us understand past or future climate change events and their impacts on the reef," said lab head Associate Professor Guillermo Diaz-Pulido.

Image: Cross-section of P. onkodes under UV light (BX50 Olympus microscope), arrows point to bands of conceptacles in skeleton made up of two or more conceptacles rows on top of each other; b. Cross-section of P. onkodes under UV light, horizontal arrow point to conceptacles, vertical arrow points to stain mark indicating the start of the summer season.

Associate Professor Diaz-Pulido said these algae were important because they provided the foundations for coral reef development.

"The coral provides the building blocks but these algae are the cement or the mortar of the reef. Without them the blocks wouldn’t hold together."

Associate Professor Guillermo Diaz-Pulido said with the rise of ocean acidification and warming threatening the health of coral reefs, it was vital that more effective, accurate and efficient methods of obtaining coralline algae baseline information be identified.

"This would not only increase our knowledge of the reef, but also contribute with data and indicators critical for their management and conservation." [Plos]

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