Feeding coral probiotics found to boost their chances of survival

Scientists are exploring many options when it comes to shoring up the wellbeing of coral reefs in the face of warming waters, and an international team of researchers is putting forward another possibility. Through experiments on stressed corals in the laboratory, the scientists were able to show how dosing them with helpful bacteria boosted their chances of survival, offering another tool they can turn to in large-scale efforts to restore Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

We have seen some innovative approaches to boosting the health of corals and improving their odds of surviving stressful events, like the rampant bleaching that has plagued Australia’s Great Barrier Reef in recent years. Underwater speakers that lure young fish, protective films that reduce the intensity of the sunlight, and raising turbo-charged coral babies in floating nurseries are just a few interesting examples.

And a new form of coral therapy likened to a scoop of probiotic yoghurt presents as yet another. The study was carried out by scientists from universities in Brazil, the UK, the US and Australia, and involved feeding one group of corals a dose of good bacteria and comparing their tolerance to stress against a control group.

“We fed the corals with beneficial microorganisms, which is like feeding them probiotic yoghurt full of good bacteria,” says Federal University of Rio de Janeiro Professor Raquel Peixoto. “Then we ran numerous stress tests on the corals, and time and time again the corals that had received the probiotics were in better health than those that had not. This finding is an exciting breakthrough in boosting the ability of coral species to survive in times of stress and help them cope with a changing climate.”

Federal University of Rio de Janeiro Professor Raquel Peixoto has been investigating how probiotics could give stressed corals a health boost
Federal University of Rio de Janeiro Professor Raquel Peixoto has been investigating how probiotics could give stressed corals a health boost

Great Barrier Reef Foundation

The scientists are continuing to experiment with the probiotic approach, conducting further tests to determine which types of good bacteria are most effective for different species of coral, and how the technology could be scaled up for use on reef systems. One possibility is using parcels of slow-release probiotics to treat targeted areas during stress events, while it could also be used as part of coral-rearing programs to give species a better chance of survival after they are transplanted to the sea.

“This technology can be used by Queensland research institutions such as the Australian Institute of Marine Science to help boost the health of the corals reared in their Sea Simulator before they are transported out to the Reef as part of their reef restoration projects,” says Great Barrier Reef Foundation Managing Director Anna Marsden. “The survival rate of these corals once they are out on the Reef is currently quite low so giving them a health boost while they are in the Sea Simulator will boost their chance of survival.”

A paper describing the results of the study is currently under peer review.

Source: Great Barrier Reef Foundation

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