Testing the efficacy of Assisted Gene Flow on the Great Barrier Reef

Warm water doesn’t affect all corals in the same way. Some hard corals are rather sensitive to heat and will bleach easily, while others are less prone to bleaching under the same conditions. Some of this bleaching tolerance can be attributed to the presence of genes involved in heat tolerance, which can be passed on to future generations. 

New techniques are being explored to help fast-track the distribution of these tolerance genes to other areas of the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) in anticipation for future warming. These techniques include the intentional relocation of warm-adapted adults or their offspring to new areas (known as Assisted Gene Flow, or AGF) and the ex situ (off site) crossing and deployment of warm-adapted corals with corals of the same species from cooler reefs (known as selective breeding).   

This year during spawning, we will investigate whether the offspring produced from reproductive crosses produced from far northern reefs with reefs in the cooler central GBR are more stress tolerant than offspring from only either the far north or central GBR. This research will test whether the offspring may fare better in a changing climate and is an important first step in assessing the effectiveness of Assisted Gene Flow in the central GBR. 

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