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Another active area of research at the Marine Lab is the study of the ecology, evolution and physiology of reef corals. An emerging area of important study at the Marine Lab is coral diseases, whose spread and etiology may be exacerbated by human activity and global warming. Also poorly known are the evolutionary relationships between coral species, as well as the evolution of characters key to coral diversification and ecological dominance in the tropics. The relationship between corals and their symbiotic algae is another major area of research. The algal symbionts, known as zooxanthellae, are essential to the nutrition of reef-building corals. Elevated water temperatures can cause the loss of the algal symbionts - a process called bleaching - that can lead to coral death and reef degradation. Research on this topic is helping to provide an understanding of this symbiosis and of the process of coral bleaching, which may become a more widespread threat to reefs as global warming raises seawater temperatures.
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