In the past 30 years, marine heatwaves are estimated to have increased by more than 50%. Ocean temperatures are predicted to increase by 1 – 4° C by 2100. These changes cause the loss of marine habitats and species and change the structure of ecosystems. Luckily, the aquarium community have stepped up to the plate and are helping to advance coral conservation.

Aquariums to the rescue

Given the extinction crises, zoos and aquariums have an important role to play in sustaining corals used to repopulate reefs and to advance our understanding of these species. But we need good information to better manage corals being raised around the world. “ Dalia Conde, Species360 Head of Conservation Science.

What’s the problem?

Up till now, corals have mainly been identified looking at their structure, using guides and expert opinion. The downside of this though, is that some corals are not identified to species level, which hinders assessment of their conservation significance.

The solution

In a recent study (see link below), the authors used DNA barcodes to identify aquarium Acropora specimens. DNA barcodes combined with morphological identification (using structure) allows for more accurate coral ID and will help to advance the identification of species distribution in the wild.

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Our study provides not only a new methodology to help identify corals, but also shows the enormous conservation potential and scientific value possibly residing in aquarium collections. We hope that our methods will support in the effort towards better identification of all the species in aquarium collections,” said Luigi Colin, Zoological Society of London (ZSL), and first author of the paper.

The bigger scheme of things

By recording and sharing this information, conservationists better understand where to go to study corals endangered in the wild and to cultivate new corals to help reinforce or rebuild reef systems.

For more information: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12686-021-01250-3

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