PerspectivePhysiology

What Determines Coral Health?

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Science  29 May 2009:
Vol. 324, Issue 5931, pp. 1153-1155
DOI: 10.1126/science.1172540

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Summary

Corals are to coral reefs as trees are to forests: They form both the trophic and structural foundation of the ecosystem. The trophic anchor arises from the intimate mutualism between corals and their intracellular symbionts—photosynthetic dinoflagellates that fix large quantities of carbon dioxide, making coral reefs among the most productive ecosystems on Earth. The structural anchor comes from the deposition of massive calcium carbonate skeletons that form the reef architecture and serve as habitat for a breathtaking diversity of organisms. Central to the severe global decline of coral reefs (1) is the dysfunction and collapse of both symbiosis and calcification in corals due to environmental stressors imposed by climate change. Insights into the physiological mechanisms that underlie healthy as well as stressed corals (2) are thus critical for predicting whether—and if so, how—corals will cope with rapid environmental change.