Broad-ranging book shows how coral bleaching is shaping the future of coral reefs


4 December 2008

The most comprehensive survey to date of the coral bleaching phenomenon and its effect on the future of the world's coral reefs has been published in a book edited by two senior AIMS scientists.

Dr Madeleine van Oppen and Dr Janice Lough have brought together years of research and broad current thinking into their new book Coral Bleaching: Patterns, Processes, Causes and Consequences , published by Springer*.

This book fills a niche by bringing together available scientific information on coral bleaching at different space and time scales from the deep geological record through to future projections.

Mass coral bleaching is caused by higher sea surface temperatures disrupting the symbiotic relationship between the coral animal and the single-celled photosynthetic algae called zooxanthellae that live in the coral's tissues. These algae give the coral its colours and supply it with food. When the seas warm, the zooxanthellae are lost and the coral appears white, possibly leading to death.

According to Drs van Oppen and Lough, bleaching on a small scale is not new, since it can be caused by a variety of localised stresses. What is new is the large-scale, whole-reef bleaching seen particularly since 1998 that has been caused by rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere warming the oceans.

A significant amount of marine science research has been devoted to this phenomenon in the past decade around the world, including at AIMS.

By focusing on the many facets of the coral bleaching phenomenon, the most immediate consequence of a changing climate for coral reefs, the new book builds upon recent research that highlights the vulnerability of coral reefs in a changing climate and provides a complete guide to current thinking on coral bleaching.

No other book like it has been produced until now.

"All existing related books deal with the broader consequences of climate change on coral reefs, including seawater acidification, coral disease and bleaching and linkages with local stresses, or they are focused on coral reef management," Dr van Oppen said. "While such books are extremely valuable, they lack the detail that this book provides," she said.

The book highlights the inadequacy of some of the current observational methods and proposes new methods that would allow remote reefs to be better monitored in the future. In 1998, an Indian Ocean reef system the size of the England was almost completely wiped out by bleaching and this was only discovered by accident later. This event highlights the importance of continuous and more widespread monitoring to fully understand what is happening on reefs around the world.

The book also offers a geological perspective on the unique symbiosis between corals and zooxanthellae. The integration of biology and the fossil record, especially ecology, molecular biology, and life history of corals and their symbiotic partners, offers potentials to better understand the current coral reef problems, including the bleaching phenomenon.

The authors whose work features in the book are experts in their field from around the world, including a number of Townsville-based experts from AIMS, JCU and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies.

The book will be officially launched by the CEO of AIMS, Dr Ian Poiner, at 10am on Thursday 4 December 2008 at the Museum of Tropical Queensland, Flinders Street East, Townsville.

Publishing details for Drs van Oppen and Lough's book are available at: http://www.springer.com/life+sci/ecology/book/978-3-540-69774-9
 

For further information, please contact:

Dr Madeleine van Oppen
Phone:07 4753 4370
E-mail:m.vanoppen@aims.gov.au

Dr Janice Lough
Phone: 07 4753 4248
E-mail:j.lough@aims.gov.au

Ms Wendy Ellery ,AIMS Media Liaison
Phone: 07 4753 4409
Mobile: 0418 729 265
E-mail:w.ellery@aims.gov.au

 

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