The research led by scientists at the University of Miami (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and the Centre Scientifique de Monaco concluded that the particular nutrient balance in seawater is what matters most.
To test which nutrients were more beneficial to corals during elevated temperature conditions, the scientists fed them two types - inorganic nutrients of nitrogen and phosphorus commonly found in the ocean as a result of fertilisers and sewage runoff, and organic nutrients of zooplankton, tiny animals in the ocean that coral are known to feed on.
The research team placed specimens of the yellow scroll coral, Turbinaria reniformis, collected from the Red Sea in separate seawater tanks with varying temperature and nutrients.
"We found that the coral's resilience to thermal stress totally depends on the kind of inorganic enrichment - if it's 'balanced' or not," said Erica Towle, an alumna of the UM Rosenstiel School.
This study is one of the first to assess the three-way interaction between the two types of nutrient enrichment and thermal stress on coral health.
"Excess nutrients from land sources and thermal stress will likely occur in concert in the future so it's important to assess them together," said Towle.
"Incorporating nutrient levels in thermal bleaching models will likely be very important for coral reef managers in the future as ocean waters warm," Towle said.


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