You Darwin Some, You Lose Some
One coral species found able to adapt to warmer waters; others screwed
Last year, unusually warm Caribbean waters killed some 40 percent of the coral around the U.S. Virgin Islands and weakened much of the rest. This year, wouldn’t you know it, the waters are warming again. “It’s impossible to overstate how important this is,” says biologist Caroline Rogers. High water temperatures lead coral to kick off the partner algae that give them color and sustenance, leaving them white and frail — a problem that’s hitting reefs around the globe. But one species of coral found in the waters of Hawaii seems to have gotten Darwin’s memo about adapting: when bleached, instead of relying on energy reserves, Montipora capitata extends short stinging tentacles and gobbles tiny marine animals called zooplankton. “This suggests there are some corals out there that can survive,” said lead researcher Andréa Grottoli, whose study appears in Nature this week. Those other corals were weenies anyway, right?