NOAA: World's Worst Coral Bleaching Event to Continue 'With No Signs of Stopping'
A diver checking out the bleaching at Heron Island in February 2016. This area was one of the first to bleach at Heron Island which is located close to the southern most point of the Great Barrier Reef. Photo credit: XL Catlin Seaview Survey
NOAA expects the bleaching event to hit the U.S. hard, especially in Hawaii, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Florida Keys, U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, according to a June 20 news release. The administration's Coral Reef Watch believes there's a 90 percent chance of widespread bleaching in the Pacific island nations of Palau and the Federal States of Micronesia.
The Pacific islands's corals are likely to suffer from La Nina. NOAA predicts there's a 75 percent chance La Nina will develop this year, bringing above normal water temperatures to the western Pacific.
NOAA said 2016 marks the third consecutive year with ocean water temperatures hotter than normal. This episode of coral bleaching began in mid-2014, making it "the longest and most widespread coral bleaching event on record."
During this period, the administration reported, 70 percent of U.S. coral reefs have been exposed to prolonged high temperatures that can cause bleaching. Ninety-three percent of Australia's Great Barrier Reef was bleached as of this April. Coral bleaching in the world's largest reef system could cause it to be a "dead ecosystem" in 20 years, EcoWatch reported previously.
The largest coral atoll in the world, Kiritimati, has lost 80 percent of its coral in the past 10 months due to this coral bleaching event. Last month, Thailand announced it was closing 10 popular dive sites due to coral bleaching.
"It's time to shift this conversation to what can be done to conserve these amazing organisms in the face of this unprecedented global bleaching event," Jennifer Koss, NOAA's Coral Reef Conservation Program director, said. “We have boots on the ground and fins in the water to reduce local stressors. Local conservation buys us time, but it isn't enough. Globally, we need to better understand what actions we all can take to combat the effects of climate change."
NOAA is working with coastal resource managers and communities near coral reefs to provide the best science and tools to enhance reef resilience. Scientists are also working on developing methods to assess the potential resilience of reefs so management officials can target and prioritize local conservation actions.
“NOAA's satellite and climate models provide us with the ability to track the high temperatures that are causing this bleaching and alert resource managers and scientists around the world," C. Mark Eakin, NOAA's Coral Reef Watch coordinator, said. “However, it is crucial that scientists and the public continue on site monitoring of reefs to track the actual extent and severity of the bleaching."
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When Looking Through a Microscope Isn’t Close Enough.<p>For the last few years, <a href="http://www.rokaslab.org/" target="_blank">our team at Vanderbilt University</a>, <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/lab/Gustavo-Goldman-Lab" target="_blank">Gustavo Goldman's team at São Paulo University in Brazil</a> and many other collaborators around the world have been collecting samples of fungi from patients infected with different species of <em>Aspergillus</em> molds. One of the species we are particularly interested in is <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/rwgn.2001.0082" target="_blank"><em>Aspergillus nidulans</em>, a relatively common and generally harmless fungus</a>. Clinical laboratories typically identify the species of <em>Aspergillus</em> causing the infection by examining cultures of the fungi under the microscope. The problem with this approach is that very closely related species of <em>Aspergillus</em> tend to look very similar in their broad morphology or physical appearance when viewing them through a microscope.</p><p>Interested in examining the varying abilities of different <em>A. nidulans</em> strains to cause disease, we decided to analyze their total genetic content, or genomes. What we saw came as a total surprise. We had not collected <em>A. nidulans</em> but <em>Aspergillus latus</em>, a close relative of <em>A. nidulans</em> and, as we were to soon find out, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2020.04.071" target="_blank">a hybrid species that evolved through the fusion of the genomes</a> of two other <em>Aspergillus</em> species: <em>Aspergillus spinulosporus</em> and an unknown close relative of <em>Aspergillus quadrilineatus</em>. Thus, we realized not only that these patients harbored infections from an entirely different species than we thought they were, but also that this species was the first ever <em>Aspergillus</em> hybrid known to cause human infections.</p>
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(Left) Candida yeasts live on parts of the human body. Imbalance of microbes on the body can allow these yeasts, some of which are hybrids, to grow and cause infection. (Right) Cryptococcus yeasts, including ones that are hybrids, can cause life-threatening infections in primarily immunocompromised people. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention<p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1008315" target="_blank">Why certain <em>Aspergillus</em> species are so deadly</a> while others are harmless remains unknown. This may in part be because <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fbr.2007.02.007" target="_blank">combinations of traits, rather than individual traits</a>, underlie organisms' ability to cause disease. So why then are hybrids frequently associated with human disease? Hybrids inherit genetic material from both parents, which may result in new combinations of traits. This may make them more similar to one parent in some of their characteristics, reflect both parents in others or may differ from both in the rest. It is precisely this mix and match of traits that hybrids have inherited from their parental species that <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/14/science/14creatures.html" target="_blank">facilitates their evolutionary success</a>, including their ability to cause disease.</p>
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