Coral chimerism as a tool for coral reef restoration
Photo of two coral recruits fusing into a chimera, by Gandhi Germán Ramírez Tapia
Can coral chimerism be a tool for sustainable coral reef restoration?
When two tiny coral babies grow side by side and fuse during the early stage of their lives, eventually, a colony with two genotypes results. This fusion instantly doubles the size of the recruit and potentially accelerates its growth, making it more resistant to various early threats, such as competition or predation. As a result, chimerism can increase the chance of survival, which makes it a relevant object of restoration research.
It is also assumed that the fusion of different genotypes into a single organism acts as an evolutionary rescue mechanism for genetic traits that may be advantageous in mitigating future environmental changes, even if the trait is not currently advantageous. However, this is not well-documented yet. In addition, chimeras provide enhanced fertilization potential in coral populations that require outbreeding between parents of different genotypes since two parents are housed within a single chimeric colony.
All these potential advantages of chimerism have gained attention as a tool that might be pursued as an explicit coral reef restoration strategy. Thus, it's an area of active research at SECORE, and our very own Sandra Mendoza-Quiroz is studying chimeras at the Coralium Lab (UNAM) in Mexico. We think this is very exciting, so be sure to stay tuned!