Climate Change and Coral: An OSU Study

If this winter finds you stressed out and fighting a sinus infection, then you know something of what coral will endure in the face of climate change.

They don’t have sinuses, but these colorful aquatic animals do actually make mucus—“coral snot” is a thing—and the balance of different species of bacteria living in their mucus is very important, because it functions as an ad hoc immune system, keeping the coral healthy by keeping unfriendly bacteria at bay.

In a study appearing in the journal PLOS ONE, researchers at The Ohio State University and their colleagues have demonstrated how two separate effects of climate change combine to destabilize different populations of coral microbes—that is, unbalance the natural coral “microbiome”—opening the door for bad bacteria to overpopulate corals’ mucus and their bodies as a whole.

The goal of the study was to help guide conservation efforts in advance of the expected rise in ocean temperature and acidity by the end of this century, as forecast by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).