Aim is to reduce redundant traits, and save others time, money and effort
Today, more than ever, the world’s coral reefs are at risk. To aid scientists, natural park managers and other interested parties in their quest to more effectively study coral reefs, a team of researchers has come up with an interactive, global database of coral traits.
Covering 56 traits from 1,547 coral species, the Coral Trait Database was described in a paper recently published in Scientific Data (www.nature.com/articles/sdata201617). It was developed by Professors Andrew Baird and Sean Connolly from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (Coral CoE).
“The trait database is the first of its kind for corals and will allow coral reef scientists to begin to address many significant, unresolved questions – and much faster. […] Traits are fundamental to most aspects of the ecology and evolution of organisms,” said Professor Baird.
Giving the example of the Great Barrier Reef, which is experiencing extensive coral bleaching at the moment, he said that the database could help scientists to explain why some species were more susceptible than others.
Associate Professor Joshua Madin from Genes to Geoscience Research Centre (Macquarie University) added, “In fact, there are hardly any questions you can’t ask of the database; its number of uses are extraordinary, but progress in these areas has been hindered by the lack of readily accessible trait data.” He had led the team that developed the database.
Literally thousands of hours had been spent compiling the database, scouring journal papers, tables printed in books and even other resources that were scattered around the world.
And now, several years later, the Coral Trait Database is available for use by all, promising to save others much time, money and effort.
“A lot of these data were not easily accessible, and it was expensive for many to get to. So much of the Coral Trait Database content was previously only available to the ‘elite’. The existence of this tool also means the coral reef research community can cut down on redundant research efforts,” Professor Connolly explained.
Coral reefs are one of the most diverse ecosystems on Earth. An estimated 275 million people around the world depend directly on them as a food supply, as protection from waves and storms, and as a source of income. Coral reefs are also crucial in providing protection and living quarters for marine life. However, in the past 20 years, the coral cover has decreased in some areas by 95 percent. Currently, coral reefs are subject to the effects of climate change and El Niño, resulting in a mass bleaching on a global, unprecedented scale.
Professor Madin said, “Coral reefs are changing rapidly, and that is unlikely to slow down. If we don’t understand these changes, we can’t protect these species-rich ecosystems. We need to speed science up, and to think creatively about how to do that. We hope this database will support scientists trying to make a difference by providing them access to the data they need quickly and at no cost.”
Link to database: coraltraits.org