A new species of algae has been found which protects coral reefs from warmer water

Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

A new species of algae has been discovered in the Persian Gulf which helps corals survive rising sea water temperatures.

Researchers from the University of Southampton and the New York University identified the symbiotic algae in corals from Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, the world’s warmest coral reef habitat.

The find was announced in the journal Scientific Reports.

Professor Jörg Wiedenmann, Head of the Coral Reef Laboratory at the University of Southampton, says the algae was named symbiodinium thermophilum in reference to its ability to survive unusually high temperatures.

The algae helps corals survive seawater temperatures of up to 36 degrees Celsius, a level which would normally kill the reef.

Reefs are made up of many coral species, most of which live in a mutually beneficial relationship with microscopically small algae hosted in their tissue.

These symbiont algae produce sugars which contribute to the diet of the coral in return for shelter and nutrients needed for algal growth.

Heat-stress induced loss of the algal partners from the coral host can result in the process known as coral bleaching.

“Understanding how corals survive under the extreme temperatures in the Gulf will give us important insights into the ability of reef corals to handle the heat stress, which is threatening their survival in the oceans that are warming up in response to climate change,” says Professor Wiedenmann.

The find gives hope to find that corals have more ways to adjust to stressful environmental conditions than previously thought.

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