Posts Tagged 'corals'

Coral physiology and microbiome dynamics under combined warming and ocean acidification

Rising seawater temperature and ocean acidification threaten the survival of coral reefs. The relationship between coral physiology and its microbiome may reveal why some corals are more resilient to these global change conditions. Here, we conducted the first experiment to simultaneously investigate changes in the coral microbiome and coral physiology in response to the dual stress of elevated seawater temperature and ocean acidification expected by the end of this century. Two species of corals, Acropora millepora containing the thermally sensitive endosymbiont C21a and Turbinaria reniformis containing the thermally tolerant endosymbiont Symbiodinium trenchi, were exposed to control (26.5°C and pCO2 of 364 μatm) and treatment (29.0°C and pCO2 of 750 μatm) conditions for 24 days, after which we measured the microbial community composition. These microbial findings were interpreted within the context of previously published physiological measurements from the exact same corals in this study (calcification, organic carbon flux, ratio of photosynthesis to respiration, photosystem II maximal efficiency, total lipids, soluble animal protein, soluble animal carbohydrates, soluble algal protein, soluble algal carbohydrate, biomass, endosymbiotic algal density, and chlorophyll a). Overall, dually stressed A. millepora had reduced microbial diversity, experienced large changes in microbial community composition, and experienced dramatic physiological declines in calcification, photosystem II maximal efficiency, and algal carbohydrates. In contrast, the dually stressed coral T. reniformis experienced a stable and more diverse microbiome community with minimal physiological decline, coupled with very high total energy reserves and particulate organic carbon release rates. Thus, the microbiome changed and microbial diversity decreased in the physiologically sensitive coral with the thermally sensitive endosymbiotic algae but not in the physiologically tolerant coral with the thermally tolerant endosymbiont. Our results confirm recent findings that temperature-stress tolerant corals have a more stable microbiome, and demonstrate for the first time that this is also the case under the dual stresses of ocean warming and acidification. We propose that coral with a stable microbiome are also more physiologically resilient and thus more likely to persist in the future, and shape the coral species diversity of future reef ecosystems.

Continue reading ‘Coral physiology and microbiome dynamics under combined warming and ocean acidification’

Taking the metabolic pulse of the world’s coral reefs

Worldwide, coral reef ecosystems are experiencing increasing pressure from a variety of anthropogenic perturbations including ocean warming and acidification, increased sedimentation, eutrophication, and overfishing, which could shift reefs to a condition of net calcium carbonate (CaCO3) dissolution and erosion. Herein, we determine the net calcification potential and the relative balance of net organic carbon metabolism (net community production; NCP) and net inorganic carbon metabolism (net community calcification; NCC) within 23 coral reef locations across the globe. In light of these results, we consider the suitability of using these two metrics developed from total alkalinity (TA) and dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) measurements collected on different spatiotemporal scales to monitor coral reef biogeochemistry under anthropogenic change. All reefs in this study were net calcifying for the majority of observations as inferred from alkalinity depletion relative to offshore, although occasional observations of net dissolution occurred at most locations. However, reefs with lower net calcification potential (i.e., lower TA depletion) could shift towards net dissolution sooner than reefs with a higher potential. The percent influence of organic carbon fluxes on total changes in dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) (i.e., NCP compared to the sum of NCP and NCC) ranged from 32% to 88% and reflected inherent biogeochemical differences between reefs. Reefs with the largest relative percentage of NCP experienced the largest variability in seawater pH for a given change in DIC, which is directly related to the reefs ability to elevate or suppress local pH relative to the open ocean. This work highlights the value of measuring coral reef carbonate chemistry when evaluating their susceptibility to ongoing global environmental change and offers a baseline from which to guide future conservation efforts aimed at preserving these valuable ecosystems.

Continue reading ‘Taking the metabolic pulse of the world’s coral reefs’

Effect of elevated pCO2 on competition between the scleractinian corals Galaxea fascicularis and Acropora hyacinthus


• The effect of high pCO2 on competitive mechanisms employed by corals was investigated.
• The corals Galaxea fascicularis and Acropora hyacinthus were studied in Monaco.
• The coral Galaxea fascicularis produced mesenterial filaments faster under high pCO2.
• Mesenterial filaments caused similar tissue damage in each pCO2 treatment after 7 days.


Ocean acidification is expected to affect coral reefs in multiple ways, in part, by depressing the calcification of scleractinian corals. To evaluate how coral communities will respond to ocean acidification, research into the effects on ecological processes determining community structure is now needed. The present study focused on corals utilizing soft tissues (i.e., mesenterial filaments) as agonistic mechanism, and evaluated their ability to compete for space under ocean acidification. Using aquarium-reared specimens in Monaco, single polyps of Galaxea fascicularis were paired with branch tips of Acropora hyacinthus to stimulate competitive interactions, which were evaluated through the production and use of mesenterial filaments in causing tissue damage under ambient (~ 600 μatm) and elevated pCO2 (~ 1200 μatm). At 1200 μatm pCO2, and when paired with A. hyacinthus, the extrusion of mesenterial filaments from G. fascicularis occurred 2 days earlier than under ambient pCO2, although ultimately the mesenterial filaments caused the same amount of tissue necrosis on A. hyacinthus under both pCO2 regimes after 7 days. This outcome supports the hypothesis that some kinds of competitive mechanisms utilized by scleractinian corals (i.e., mesenterial filaments) will be unaffected by short exposure to pCO2 as high as 1200 μatm.

Continue reading ‘Effect of elevated pCO2 on competition between the scleractinian corals Galaxea fascicularis and Acropora hyacinthus’

Low and variable ecosystem calcification in a coral reef lagoon under natural acidification

Laboratory-based CO2 experiments and studies of naturally low pH coral reef ecosystems reveal negative impacts of ocean acidification on the calcifying communities that build coral reefs. Conversely, in Palau’s low pH lagoons, coral cover is high, coral communities are diverse, and calcification rates of two reef-building corals exhibit no apparent sensitivity to the strong natural gradient in pH and aragonite saturation state (Ωar). We developed two methods to quantify rates of Net Ecosystem Calcification (NEC), the ecosystem-level balance between calcification and dissolution, in Risong Lagoon, where average daily pH is ∼ 7.9 and Ωar ∼ 2.7. While coral cover in the lagoon is within the range of other Pacific reefs (∼ 26%), NEC rates were among the lowest measured, averaging 25.9 ± 13.7 mmol m−2 d−1 over two 4 d study periods. NEC rates were highly variable, ranging from a low of 13.7 mmol m−2 d−1 in March 2012 to a high of 40.3 mmol m−2 d−1 in November 2013, despite no significant changes in temperature, salinity, inorganic nutrients, Ωar, or pH. Our results indicate that the coral reef community of Risong Lagoon produces just enough calcium carbonate to maintain net positive calcification but comes dangerously close to net zero or negative NEC (net dissolution). Identifying the factors responsible for low NEC rates as well as the drivers of NEC variability in naturally low pH reef systems are key to predicting their futures under 21st century climate change.

Continue reading ‘Low and variable ecosystem calcification in a coral reef lagoon under natural acidification’

Transcriptomic resilience of the Montipora digitata holobiont to low pH

Ocean acidification is considered as one of the major threats for coral reefs at a global scale. Marine calcifying organisms, including stony corals, are expected to be the most affected by the predicted decrease of the surface water pH at the end of the century. The severity of the impacts on coral reefs remains as a matter of controversy. Although previous studies have explored the physiological response of stony corals to changes in pH, the response of the holobiont (i.e., the coral itself plus its symbionts) remains largely unexplored. In the present study, we assessed the changes in overall gene expression of the coral Montipora digitata and its microalgal symbionts after a short (3 days) and a longer (42 days) exposure to low pH (7.6). The short-term exposure to low pH caused small differences in the expression level of the host, impacting mostly genes associated with stress response in other scleractinians. Longer exposure to low pH resulted in no significant changes in gene expression of treated vs. control coral hosts. Gene expression in the eukaryotic symbionts remained unaltered at both exposure times. Our findings suggest resilience, in terms of gene expression, of the M. digitata holobiont to pH decrease, as well as capability to acclimatize to extended periods of exposure to low pH.

Continue reading ‘Transcriptomic resilience of the Montipora digitata holobiont to low pH’

Calcification in Caribbean reef-building corals at high pCO2 levels in a recirculating ocean acidification exposure system


  • A recirculating OA system can be utilized as long as off-gassing measures are taken.
  • Aeration, water retention and algal scrubbing are effecting off-gassing measures.
  • Elevated pCO2 did not affect coral calcification rate or tissue growth.


Projected increases in ocean pCO2 levels are anticipated to affect calcifying organisms more rapidly and to a greater extent than other marine organisms. The effects of ocean acidification (OA) have been documented in numerous species of corals in laboratory studies, largely tested using flow-through exposure systems. We developed a recirculating ocean acidification exposure system that allows precise pCO2 control using a combination of off-gassing measures including aeration, water retention devices, venturi injectors, and CO2 scrubbing. We evaluated the recirculating system performance in off-gassing effectiveness and maintenance of target pCO2 levels over an 84-day experiment. The system was used to identify changes in calcification and tissue growth in response to elevated pCO2 (1000 μatm) in three reef-building corals of the Caribbean: Pseudodiploria clivosa, Montastraea cavernosa, and Orbicella faveolata. All three species displayed an overall increase in net calcification over the 84-day exposure period regardless of pCO2 level (control + 0.28–1.12 g, elevated pCO2 + 0.18–1.16 g), and the system was effective at both off-gassing acidified water to ambient pCO2 levels, and maintaining target elevated pCO2 levels over the 3-month experiment.

Continue reading ‘Calcification in Caribbean reef-building corals at high pCO2 levels in a recirculating ocean acidification exposure system’

Instability and breakdown of the coral–algae symbiosis upon exceedence of the interglacial pCO2 threshold (>260 ppmv): the “missing” Earth-System feedback mechanism

Changes in the atmospheric partial pressure of CO2 (pCO2) leads to predictable impacts on the surface ocean carbonate system. Here, the importance of atmospheric pCO2 <260 ppmv is established for the optimum performance (and stability) of the algal endosymbiosis employed by a key suite of tropical reef-building coral species. Violation of this symbiotic threshold is revealed as a prerequisite for major historical reef extinction events, glacial–interglacial feedback climate cycles, and the modern decline of coral reef ecosystems. Indeed, it is concluded that this symbiotic threshold enacts a fundamental feedback mechanism needed to explain the characteristic dynamics (and drivers) of the coupled land–ocean–atmosphere carbon cycle of the Earth System since the mid-Miocene, some 25 million yr ago.

Continue reading ‘Instability and breakdown of the coral–algae symbiosis upon exceedence of the interglacial pCO2 threshold (>260 ppmv): the “missing” Earth-System feedback mechanism’

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Ocean acidification in the IPCC AR5 WG II

OUP book