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"Sex switching" key to coral survival during global warming

By Super Admin

Washington, Feb 20 (ANI): It has been found in a new research that Japanese sea corals engage in "sex switching", which may be the key to the survival of the fragile marine species that are currently threatened by global warming.

The research has been undertaken by Professor Yossi Loya from Tel Aviv University's Department of Zoology.

It was found that in times of stress like extreme hot spells, the female mushroom coral (known as a fungiid coral) switches its sex so that most of the population becomes male.

The advantage of doing so is that male corals can more readily cope with stress when resources are limited, Loya determined.

"We believe, as with orchids and some trees, sex change in corals increases their overall fitness, reinforcing the important role of reproductive plasticity in determining their evolutionary success," he said.

According to Loya, "One of the evolutionary strategies that some corals use to survive seems to be their ability to change from female to male."

"As males, they can pass through the bad years, then, when circumstances become more favorable, change back to overt females. Being a female takes more energy. And having the ability to change gender periodically enables a species to maximize its reproductive effort," he said.

Corals, though a part of the animal kingdom, can act like plants. Both are sedentary life forms, unable to move when times get tough.

In stressful environmental conditions, male corals can "ride out the storm," so to speak, said Loya.

"Males are less expensive - in the evolutionary sense - to maintain. They are cheaper in terms of their gonads and the energy needed to maintain their bodies," he added.

Loya's finding may give new insight to scientists into developing coral breeding strategies for the time when the massive climate changes predicted by scientists set in.

"This knowledge can help coral breeders. Fungiid corals are a hardy coral variety which can be grown in captivity. Once you know its mode of reproduction, we can grow hundreds of thousands f them," he said. (ANI)

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