The increasing CO2 concentration in air is having a profound impact on corals in the most unforeseen ways. It had been previously thought that CO2 would affect the calcium structure of the coral skeleton, but an international team of researchers proved something that’s deeper: CO2 affects the very core of the corals: their genes.
“Every time we release CO2, it turns the oceans imperceptibly more acidic – and previous research has shown this to have a harmful effect on corals, plankton and other marine organisms which form their skeletons from calcium and carbonate,” explains Professor David Miller of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (CoECRS) and James Cook University in Australia.
The team, containing scientists from Australia, France, Netherlands and South Korea read more than 250 million pieces of genetic material analyzed the changes in signaling by every single one of the coral’s 20,000-odd genes.
“Much to our surprise we found the rising acidity had little effect on the production of ion transport proteins that are responsible for circulating and depositing the calcium carbonate within the coral cells to form its skeleton,” Professor Miller said. “These seemed largely unaffected under high CO2.
The research has been carried out on Acropora millepora (aka staghorn) corals.
While CO2 has a deep impact on many other more visible layers of the ecosystem, nobody thought it can affect corals, which stand at the core of the oceanic ecosystem – the spring of life.