Certain corals play a role in their susceptibility to bleaching by scattering light differently than others, according to a paper published in the journal PLoS One.
Northwestern University molecular biologist Luisa A. Marcelino, Vadim Backman, a physicist and professor of biomedical engineering at Northwestern, and Mark W. Westneat, a coral reef biologist and curator of zoology at the Field Museum in Chicago used optical technology designed to detect cancer and discovered that some reef-building corals and more importantly, their skeletons, scatter light in different patterns to the algae that feed the corals.
This research led to the determination that corals more efficient in scattering light suffer more damage when stressed than those corals that are not as efficient at scattering light. They also found that these less efficient light scatterers have the capability to retain algae better under stressful conditions and are more likely to survive a bleaching incident.
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The research is interesting due to the method that was employed to reach their conclusions as it involved marine biology, the physics of light transport, biophysics of how corals respond to light, and the optical technology used for early cancer detection. They used a technique called low-coherence enhanced backscattering (LEBS) to measure light transport and amplification on the skeletons of 96 different coral species. According to the paper, they found that the speed in which light amplification increases with the loss of algae is dependent on light transport at the microscale. This was determined using the LEBS technique. Those corals that lost more algae were more prone to bleaching. The specimens that were used in the study came from the Field Museum collection, of which many of the corals were displayed at the Chicago Columbian Exposition and World’s Fair of 1893. The determined that bleaching and light scattering occurs across the history of coral reefs and occurs in all major coral groups.
The complete paper can be found here.