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Frontiers of Science 2021

Sustainability: How Science Can Help Achieve
the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals

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How Coral May Survive Climate Change

February 20, 2021
Presented by Iliana Baums
Professor, Department of Biology
Penn State

Iliana Baums for the 2021 Frontiers of Science.

High human population densities on the world’s tropical shores and changing environmental conditions such as a warming global climate have had significant and detrimental impacts on coral reefs. It is imperative that we take immediate action to reduce carbon emissions to slow down the rate of global warming. Meanwhile, it is in our best interest to ensure the continued existence of functioning coral reef ecosystems because they provide important services to local and global economies, including food and shoreline protection. In the Baums lab, we use molecular techniques to answer fundamental questions about marine evolution and ecology to guide coral reef conservation efforts. I will discuss our research that underscores the importance of preserving the genetic diversity of coral populations to enable their adaptation to changing conditions, and how our results provide a clear and hopeful path forward for coral restoration and conservation.

Iliana Baums studies how corals adapt to a changing climate and environmental stress, using molecular tools. Corals are sensitive to very small increases in seawater temperature, and there is concern that with global warming most corals will be lost. Based on her research, Baums designs methods to conserve and restore coral reefs in the face of rapid change. She has coauthored more than 60 articles in peer-reviewed journals and has delivered presentations on her research around the world. Baums is on the scientific advisory board of SECORE International, and she chairs the Coral Conservation Consortium’s working group on coral conservation genetics. She also serves on the editorial boards of several journals. Baums received a 2020 Faculty Scholar Medal for Outstanding Achievement from Penn State. In 2014, she received a Humboldt Fellowship and was chosen as a fellow for the Hanse-Wissenschaftskolleg (Institute for Advanced Study, HWK) in Delmenhorst, Germany. She also received the 2004 Smith Prize, awarded for the most original piece of research at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science at the University of Miami. She earned her doctorate at the University of Miami in 2003 and her diplom in marine biology from the University of Bremen, in Germany, in 2000.