Northwestern researchers publish first-ever ‘global index’ on coral reefs

Kelli Nguyen, Assistant Campus Editor

A Northwestern research team published last week the first-ever “global index” outlining the vulnerability of coral reefs to coral bleaching.

Coral bleaching occurs when corals respond to unexpected changes in their ecosystem by expelling their life-providing algae, causing them to turn white. The coral bleaching response index details the susceptibility of coral reefs across the world to coral bleaching and their likeliness to die.

The index draws from a meta-analysis of coral bleaching from 1982 through 2006 and represents nearly half of the world’s corals. The research team plans to put the global index online to allow for the addition of data as it becomes available.

“Coral bleaching is an inescapable example of the effects of climate change,” McCormick fellow and first author of the study Timothy Swain said in a news release. “Our goal is to use data to understand what is driving bleaching and learn how we can protect the world’s coral reefs, so we don’t lose them so quickly.”

Coral reefs worldwide are suffering from the longest global coral bleaching event ever recorded. The new global index provides a standard measure of the vulnerability of different species of coral to thermal stress and will serve as a tool for conservationists and park managers.

“With the index, we have a platform we can use to better understand bleaching mechanisms, both intrinsic and environmental,” McCormick Prof. Luisa Marcelino said in a news release. “There is value in knowing which species are more resistant and why. With good tools, we can make more informed decisions and better manage coral reefs.”

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