Posts Tagged 'corals'

Repeat bleaching of a central Pacific coral reef over the past six decades (1960–2016)

The oceans are warming and coral reefs are bleaching with increased frequency and severity, fueling concerns for their survival through this century. Yet in the central equatorial Pacific, some of the world’s most productive reefs regularly experience extreme heat associated with El Niño. Here we use skeletal signatures preserved in long-lived corals on Jarvis Island to evaluate the coral community response to multiple successive heatwaves since 1960. By tracking skeletal stress band formation through the 2015-16 El Nino, which killed 95% of Jarvis corals, we validate their utility as proxies of bleaching severity and show that 2015-16 was not the first catastrophic bleaching event on Jarvis. Since 1960, eight severe (>30% bleaching) and two moderate (<30% bleaching) events occurred, each coinciding with El Niño. While the frequency and severity of bleaching on Jarvis did not increase over this time period, 2015–16 was unprecedented in magnitude. The trajectory of recovery of this historically resilient ecosystem will provide critical insights into the potential for coral reef resilience in a warming world.

Continue reading ‘Repeat bleaching of a central Pacific coral reef over the past six decades (1960–2016)’

Copper exposure and seawater acidification interaction: Antagonistic effects on biomarkers in the zooxanthellate scleractinian coral Mussismilia harttii

Highlights

• 76% of the interactions between reduced seawater pH and increasing copper concentrations were antagonistic, and only 24% of these interactions were additive or synergistic;

• The combination of seawater acidification and increasing copper concentrations had no significant deleterious effects in the photosynthetic metabolism of endosymbionts (Symbiodinium spp.) or Ca-ATPase activity;

• Low copper concentrations had a consistent positive effect on Ca-ATPase activity in corals facing reduced seawater pH conditions;

• Potential deleterious effects on the acid-base balance of corals, associated with changes in carbonic anhydrase activity, were intensified by the combination of stressors;

• Toxic effects of copper in future ocean acidification scenarios can be less severe than previously suggested.

Abstract

Coral reefs are threatened by global and local impacts, such as ocean acidification (OA) and metal contamination. Toxicity of metals, such as copper (Cu), is expected to be enhanced with OA. However, the interaction between these environmental stressors is still poorly evaluated. In the present study, the interactive effects of seawater acidification and increasing Cu concentrations were evaluated in a zooxanthellate scleractinian coral (Mussismilia harttii), using biochemical biomarkers involved in the coral calcification process and the photosynthetic metabolism of endosymbionts. Corals were kept under control conditions (no seawater acidification and no Cu addition in seawater) or exposed to combined treatments of reduced seawater pH (8.1, 7.8, 7.5 and 7.2) and environmentally relevant concentrations of dissolved Cu (measured: 1.0, 1.6, 2.3 and 3.2 µg/L) in a mesocosm system. After 15- and 35-days exposure, corals were analyzed for photochemical efficiency (Fv/Fm), chlorophyll a content, Ca-ATPase and carbonic anhydrase (CA) activity. Results showed that 76% of the interactions between reduced seawater pH and increasing Cu concentrations were antagonistic. Only 24% of these interactions were additive or synergistic. In general, the combination of stressors had no significant deleterious effects in the photosynthetic metabolism of endosymbionts or Ca-ATPase activity. In fact, the lowest dissolved Cu concentration tested had a consistent positive effect on Ca-ATPase activity in corals facing any of the reduced seawater pH conditions tested. In turn, potentially deleterious effects on acid-base balance in M. harttii, associated with changes in CA activity, were intensified by the combination of stressors. Findings reported here indicate that Cu toxicity in future OA scenarios can be less severe than previously suggested in this coral holobiont.

Continue reading ‘Copper exposure and seawater acidification interaction: Antagonistic effects on biomarkers in the zooxanthellate scleractinian coral Mussismilia harttii’

Elevated CO2 has little influence on the bacterial communities associated with the pH-tolerant coral, massive Porites spp.

Ocean acidification (OA) as a result of increased anthropogenic CO2 input into the atmosphere carries consequences for all ocean life. Low pH can cause a shift in coral-associated microbial communities of pCO2-sensitive corals, however, it remains unknown whether the microbial community is also influenced in corals known to be more tolerant to high pCO2/low pH. This study profiles the bacterial communities associated with the tissues of the pCO2-tolerant coral, massive Porites spp., from two natural CO2 seep sites in Papua New Guinea. Amplicon sequencing of the hypervariable V3-V4 regions of the 16S rRNA gene revealed that microbial communities remained stable across CO2 seep sites (pH = 7.44–7.85) and adjacent control sites (ambient pH = 8.0–8.1). Microbial communities were more significantly influenced by reef location than pH, with the relative abundance of dominant microbial taxa differing between reefs. These results directly contrast with previous findings that increased CO2 has a strong effect on structuring microbial communities. The stable structure of microbial communities associated with the tissues of massive Porites spp. under high pCO2/low pH conditions confirms a high degree of tolerance by the whole Porites holobiont to OA, and suggest that pH tolerant corals such as Porites may dominate reef assemblages in an increasingly acidic ocean.

Continue reading ‘Elevated CO2 has little influence on the bacterial communities associated with the pH-tolerant coral, massive Porites spp.’

Coral reef carbonate budgets and ecological drivers in the central Red Sea – a naturally high temperature and high total alkalinity environment

The structural framework provided by corals is crucial for reef ecosystem function and services, but high seawater temperatures can be detrimental to the calcification capacity of reef-building organisms. The Red Sea is very warm, but total alkalinity (TA) is naturally high and beneficial for reef accretion. To date, we know little about how such detrimental and beneficial abiotic factors affect each other and the balance between calcification and erosion on Red Sea coral reefs, i.e., overall reef growth, in this unique ocean basin. To provide estimates of present-day reef growth dynamics in the central Red Sea, we measured two metrics of reef growth, i.e., in situ net-accretion/-erosion rates (Gnet) determined by deployment of limestone blocks and ecosystem-scale carbonate budgets (Gbudget), along a cross-shelf gradient (25km, encompassing nearshore, midshore, and offshore reefs). Along this gradient, we assessed multiple abiotic (i.e., temperature, salinity, diurnal pH fluctuation, inorganic nutrients, and TA) and biotic (i.e., calcifier and epilithic bioeroder communities) variables. Both reef growth metrics revealed similar patterns from nearshore to offshore: net-erosive, neutral, and net-accretion states. The average cross-shelf Gbudget was 0.66kg CaCO3m−2yr−1, with the highest budget of 2.44kg CaCO3m−2yr−1 measured in the offshore reef. These data are comparable to the contemporary Gbudgets from the western Atlantic and Indian oceans, but lie well below optimal reef production (5–10kg CaCO3m−2yr−1) and below maxima recently recorded in remote high coral cover reef sites. However, the erosive forces observed in the Red Sea nearshore reef contributed less than observed elsewhere. A higher TA accompanied reef growth across the shelf gradient, whereas stronger diurnal pH fluctuations were associated with negative carbonate budgets. Noteworthy for this oligotrophic region was the positive effect of phosphate, which is a central micronutrient for reef building corals. While parrotfish contributed substantially to bioerosion, our dataset also highlights coralline algae as important local reef builders. Altogether, our study establishes a baseline for reef growth in the central Red Sea that should be useful in assessing trajectories of reef growth capacity under current and future ocean scenarios.

Continue reading ‘Coral reef carbonate budgets and ecological drivers in the central Red Sea – a naturally high temperature and high total alkalinity environment’

CO2 storage and release in the deep Southern Ocean on millennial to centennial timescales

The cause of changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) during the recent ice ages is yet to be fully explained. Most mechanisms for glacial–interglacial CO2 change have centred on carbon exchange with the deep ocean, owing to its large size and relatively rapid exchange with the atmosphere1. The Southern Ocean is thought to have a key role in this exchange, as much of the deep ocean is ventilated to the atmosphere in this region2. However, it is difficult to reconstruct changes in deep Southern Ocean carbon storage, so few direct tests of this hypothesis have been carried out. Here we present deep-sea coral boron isotope data that track the pH—and thus the CO2 chemistry—of the deep Southern Ocean over the past forty thousand years. At sites closest to the Antarctic continental margin, and most influenced by the deep southern waters that form the ocean’s lower overturning cell, we find a close relationship between ocean pH and atmospheric CO2: during intervals of low CO2, ocean pH is low, reflecting enhanced ocean carbon storage; and during intervals of rising CO2, ocean pH rises, reflecting loss of carbon from the ocean to the atmosphere. Correspondingly, at shallower sites we find rapid (millennial- to centennial-scale) decreases in pH during abrupt increases in CO2, reflecting the rapid transfer of carbon from the deep ocean to the upper ocean and atmosphere. Our findings confirm the importance of the deep Southern Ocean in ice-age CO2 change, and show that deep-ocean CO2 release can occur as a dynamic feedback to rapid climate change on centennial timescales.

Continue reading ‘CO2 storage and release in the deep Southern Ocean on millennial to centennial timescales’

Seasonal net ecosystem metabolism of the near-shore reef system in La Parguera, Puerto Rico

Changes in ocean chemistry as a direct response to rising atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations is causing a reduction of pH in the surface ocean. While the dynamics and trends in carbonate chemistry are reasonably constrained for open ocean waters, the ways in which ocean acidification (OA) manifests within the shallow near-shore waters, where coral reefs reside, is less understood. Constraining near-reef variability in carbonate chemistry and net ecosystem metabolic processes across diel, seasonal, and annual scales is important in evaluating potential biogeochemical thresholds of OA that could result in ecological community changes. The OA Test-Bed at La Parguera Marine Reserve in Puerto Rico provides long-term carbonate chemistry observations at high-temporal resolution within a Caribbean near-shore coral reef ecosystem. A 1-D model was developed using the carbon mass balance approach to yield information about net ecosystem production and calcification processes occurring in the water column adjacent to the reef. We present results of nine years of sustained monitoring at the Enrique mid-shelf forereef, which provides for the characterization of temporal dynamics in carbonate chemistry and net ecosystem metabolic processes encompassing near-shore and upstream locations. Results indicate that net heterotrophy and net dissolution dominate over most of the year, while net autotrophic conditions coupled with calcification dominated from only January to mid-April. The average carbonate dissolution rate observed during summer is estimated at −2.19g CaCO3m−2 day−1 and net community dissolution persists 76% of the seasonal year despite the water column remaining super-saturated with respect to aragonite. This corresponds to −0.62 kg CaCO3m−2 year−1, classifying the Enrique fore-reef and off-reef areas in a net dissolutional state. The combination of thermodynamically-driven depressed aragonite saturation state and high rates of respiration during the summer cause conditions that jeopardize the most soluble carbonate minerals and the free energy in the system for calcification. These data suggest that the reef area and associated ecosystems upstream of the sampling location are experiencing a net loss of CaCO3, possibly compromising coral ecosystem health and reef accretion processes necessary for maintenance as sea level increases. Resiliency from other climate-scale stressors including rising sea surface temperatures and coral bleaching is likely to be compromised in a system exhibiting net carbonate loss.

Continue reading ‘Seasonal net ecosystem metabolism of the near-shore reef system in La Parguera, Puerto Rico’

Growth and feeding of deep-sea coral Lophelia pertusa from the California margin under simulated ocean acidification conditions

The global decrease in seawater pH known as ocean acidification has important ecological consequences and is an imminent threat for numerous marine organisms. Even though the deep sea is generally considered to be a stable environment, it can be dynamic and vulnerable to anthropogenic disturbances including increasing temperature, deoxygenation, ocean acidification and pollution. Lophelia pertusa is among the better-studied cold-water corals but was only recently documented along the US West Coast, growing in acidified conditions. In the present study, coral fragments were collected at ∼300 m depth along the southern California margin and kept in recirculating tanks simulating conditions normally found in the natural environment for this species. At the collection site, waters exhibited persistently low pH and aragonite saturation states (Ωarag) with average values for pH of 7.66 ± 0.01 and Ωarag of 0.81 ± 0.07. In the laboratory, fragments were grown for three weeks in “favorable” pH/Ωarag of 7.9/1.47 (aragonite saturated) and “unfavorable” pH/Ωarag of 7.6/0.84 (aragonite undersaturated) conditions. There was a highly significant treatment effect (P < 0.001) with an average% net calcification for favorable conditions of 0.023 ± 0.009% d−1 and net dissolution of −0.010 ± 0.014% d-1 for unfavorable conditions. We did not find any treatment effect on feeding rates, which suggests that corals did not depress feeding in low pH/ Ωarag in an attempt to conserve energy. However, these results suggest that the suboptimal conditions for L. pertusa from the California margin could potentially threaten the persistence of this cold-water coral with negative consequences for the future stability of this already fragile ecosystem.

Continue reading ‘Growth and feeding of deep-sea coral Lophelia pertusa from the California margin under simulated ocean acidification conditions’


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OA-ICC HIGHLIGHTS

Ocean acidification in the IPCC AR5 WG II

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