OTHER ORGANISMS’ EXTINCTIONS ARE EARLY WARNINGS FOR US
So we’ve all seen the dystopic apocalypse-fetish Hollywood films depicting humanity migrating en masse to escape meteors underground, escape an ice age in Mexico, and escape zombies in…well, wherever. But how will the rest of Earth’s biosphere escape climate change? Hasn’t anyone thought of the coral reefs?
Scientists have theorized in a UN report on the progress of global effects that when it comes to the ineluctable force of global climate change, organisms like coral reefs, which support a vast ecosystem of other organisms, may be the most sensitive to rising temperatures. This is especially bad because their demise would doom a whole smorgasbord of other dependent plants and animals.
WHY GENETIC EXCHANGE IS A GOOD IDEA
But a group of scientists recently reported that reef-building corals could be rescued by exchanging their genes with heat-tolerant genotypes from latitudes where temperatures traditionally shift the highest. In their words, “Elevated thermal tolerance was associated with heritable differences in expression of oxidative, extracellular, transport, and mitochondrial functions that indicated a lack of prior stress.”
Translation: it turns out that corals with tolerance to great differences in temperature tend to have a rich mix of genetic variety, specifically from the lower latitudes, where the water has already been relatively warm for quite some time.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR THE FUTURE OF CORALS REEFS?
This is important because last year in a United Nations report, it was found that the early warning signs of irrevocable climate change would appear in the mass extinction of warm water corals and the Arctic. These scientists also claimed the acidification of oceans by human pollution were other sources of growing threat to the corals. Since we now know that corals can inherit a resistance giving them a strong evolutionary advantage in the coming global crisis, other questions can be taken more seriously.
ANSWERS FOR BROADER DEBATES REGARDING THE CHANGING ENVIRONMENT
Now that we know that resistance to climate change has a strong genetic basis, we have more data with which to debate the pros and cons of relocating animals to warmer climates.
This will help us stave the forces of extinction for some species, surely, but many others, who may potentially bring diseases unknown to warmer climates, face uncertain futures. Seriousness aside, should the Coca-Cola Polar Bear meet the Californian? Shall the Chihuahua assuage the Husky?