Study finds Caribbean corals survived climate change

A recent study has found that corals from the genus Orbicella found in the Caribbean, survived a dramatic climate change that took place about two million years ago.

According to the findings of a scientific study conducted by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI), these corals not only managed to survive a period during which half of all coral species in the Caribbean died out, but possibly even strengthen. These findings could indicate their ability to adapt during future warming or cooling events.

STRI scientists believe that Orbicella coral’s ability to adapt is due to their genetic diversity. The study's lead author, Carlos Prada, explained that they discovered "that even a small number of individuals in three different species of the genus Orbicella, which builds coral reefs, has quite a genetic variation, and is therefore likely to adapt to great changes in their environment." "Having many genetic variants is like buying lots of lottery tickets," added Prada.

STRI researches, and those from several universities used high res geological dating methods to determine the age of a variety of ancient coral fossils. These findings determined that the groups best represented were all species from the genus Orbicella.

So, when glaciers descended over much of the northern hemisphere dropping the surface temperature drastically, the Orbicella was able to recover. the number of coral species in the Caribbean was plummeting. Prada explains his hopefulness in this discovery. “we have hope in our results, since the species of Orbicella survived a dramatic event of environmental variation. It is likely that surviving in those difficult times made these coral populations more robust and able to persist in future climate change.