Environment Sweet smell of science success on the reef

Sweet smell of science success on the reef

Scientists have been sniffing around the southern Great Barrier Reef in an effort to find out how corals “smell” before and during bleaching events.

All organisms release a distinct mix of volatile gases that makes up their smell.

And just as we are learning what these distinctive “smells” can tell us about our own health, so too can such volatile chemicals tell us what is happening to the reef.

In a world-first, a team of scientists from University of Technology Sydney, The University of Sydney and Southern Cross University measured the volatile gases surrounding healthy and stressed corals.

They discovered that across coral species, the abundance and chemical diversity of their gas emissions fell significantly during heat stress events.

The team leader, from the UTS Climate Cluster, Dr Caitlin Lawson, said the results revealed that heat stress dramatically decreases the chemical diversity, quantity and functional potential of what she called “important compounds.”

“Our results provide the first insights into the range of gases produced by reef-building corals and highlight a diverse suite of compounds that may play potentially important – but previously unrecognised – roles in maintaining healthy reef functioning,” Dr Lawson said.

“[They] also reveal that heat stress dramatically decreases the chemical diversity, quantity and functional potential of these important compounds, which could further impact the capacity of corals to cope with increasing temperatures.”

Have your two scents worth and support for our universities as they work to our environment sign the petition to Keep It Clever now.