Jackie Padilla-Gamino
Dennis Wise/University of Washington
Jacqueline Padilla-Gamino

Coral reefs are among the most diverse ecosystems in the world, protecting coastlines from erosion and supporting more than 500 million people through tourism and fishing livelihoods. But at the current rate of global warming, mass coral bleaching is expected to become more frequent and severe worldwide.

Coral bleaching is a significant problem for the world’s ocean ecosystems: When coral becomes bleached, it loses the algae that live inside it, turning it white. Corals can survive a bleaching event, but while they are bleached they are at higher risk for disease and death.

Now an international consortium of scientists, including a coral researcher from the University of Washington, has created the first-ever common framework for increasing comparability of research findings on coral bleaching. The work, described in a paper published Nov. 21 in the journal Ecological Applications, provides a common language and reference points for researchers to compare results across studies.

“It is very important to find better and more efficient ways to perform experiments that can help us to understand the vulnerability, tolerance and resilience of these ecosystems,” said co-author Jacqueline Padilla-Gamiño, an assistant professor in the UW School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences who studies coral physiology and reproduction. “Our work will provide an incredible platform that scientists around the world can use to develop more open and collaborative science.”

The framework covers a broad range of variables that scientists generally monitor in their experiments, including temperature, water flow, light and other factors. It does not dictate what levels of each should be present during an experiment into the causes of coral bleaching; rather, it offers a common framework for increasing comparability of reported variables.

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