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Coral reefs may be threatened, but some species likely to thrive in rising water temperatures

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While rising ocean temperatures and human activities are generally seen as deadly threats to the coral reef systems throughout the world, there are going to be both winners and losers in the world's coral species in the future, a new study says.

At least some present coral species will likely continue to survive in our planet's oceans amid both natural and anthropogenic environmental threats, experts at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis of the University of California, Santa Barbara predict.

Twenty scientists from a number of U.S. universities were part of a Tropical Coral Reefs of the Future working group attempting to predict upcoming fluctuations in coral reef ecosystems in response to the menace of rising temperatures in the oceans.

"This NCEAS working group brought together coral reef experts with diverse perspectives from ecology and paleoecology," said Frank Davis, the director of NCEAS. "The ongoing collaborations have been creative and productive."

The group has published its findings in the journal PLOS ONE.

The researchers examined data on contemporary reef ecosystems as well as fossil coral reefs from two places in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Belize in the Caribbean, and from Indo-Pacific sites in Hawaii, Taiwan, Moorea, Kenya and the Great Barrier Reef off Australia to simulate future coral reef outcomes.

The scientists were able to develop trait-based models to explore the ecological success of some corals in warmer future ocean waters.

"Although many corals are becoming less abundant, there remain a number of species that are holding their own or increasing in abundance and these corals will populate tropical reefs over the next few centuries," says lead study author Peter Edmunds, a biologist at California State University, Northridge.

In addition to studies of current reefs, the researchers examined fossil evidence to analyze the effect of temperature changes on ancient coral reef ecosystems.

Twenty-two species of coral are currently listed as "threatened" under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

The coral species with the best chances to survive in an ocean exhibiting increasing temperatures will be those that are fast-growing, more resistant to stress and which easily produce large numbers of offspring, the researchers say.

The world's reef systems may be facing a number of threats. The study nevertheless challenges the idea that live coral would someday be completely lost.

The tropical reefs of today may no longer unfold as many diverse ecological riches as before, but the findings prove some corals will survive amid environmental changes, notes Edmunds.

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