An Alien place on Earth: The Red Sea as a model for Future Oceans
Collection EditorsRúben Costa, Christian Voolstra
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About this collectionOur oceans are changing. Elevated greenhouse gases cause the increase of Earth’s average temperature (or global warming) and contribute to what is known as climate change. This in turn has a big influence on the oceans and the organisms that live therein. Given that oceans are changing so rapidly, how are marine organisms affected by this? Can they adapt? How can we study those adaptations? Where should we start?
In between Africa and Asia, in the Middle East region, lies a vast mass of seawater connected to the Indian ocean by its southern end. This water body is called the Red Sea, some say because of the presence of a reddish-brown cyanobacteria in its waters, others say because red was the color representing “south” (of the Mediterranean civilization) in ancient times. Its localization makes it a unique environment with high temperatures and salinities (that is the amount of salt dissolved in water) that create a complex environmental gradient from north to south in its more than two thousand kilometers of length. Despite these harsh, almost alien conditions, the Red Sea is home to large green mangroves, more than a thousand species of fish (many of them unique to the Red Sea), hundreds of species of corals and countless invertebrates. At the microscopic level, we make new discoveries every day so that our knowledge on the diversity of bacteria, microalgae, and viruses is constantly increasing.
But if this environment seems so difficult to sustain life, how do all these organisms still prosper in it? This is one of many questions scientists are trying to answer by studying the organisms (biota) of the Red Sea as well as the abiotic factors such as temperature, salinity and nutrients and how they affect organisms. Because of its extreme conditions, the Red Sea is a unique laboratory to study and learn about the impact of climate change on ecosystems: it represents a time machine that allows us to look into the future of tropical oceans and lets us understand how organisms thrive in environmental extremes.
The aim of this collection is to explore the current knowledge we have on the Red Sea biodiversity and its adaptability to environmental change. From the mutual beneficial relationships (symbiosis) between corals and their algal partners, their protection, and the role of the Red Sea in providing a source of food to its neighboring countries, we aspire to learn how life can find a way to flourish even when the odds seem to be against it. More importantly, by understanding the present conditions of the Red Sea, we might be able to predict how organisms from other regions will adapt to climate change.
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