Posts Tagged 'corals'

Regional and species level responses of Scleractinian corals under global change within the Caribbean Sea

Human-induced global change has caused rapid increases in ocean temperature (warming) and declines in seawater pH (acidification), and are expected to have negative impacts on tropical reef-building corals globally. Abnormally high seawater temperatures disrupt the symbiosis between corals and their algal endosymbiont in a process known as ‘coral bleaching.’ During such bleaching events, calcification rates decline and physiological processes deteriorate. Additionally, corals rely heavily on elevated seawater pH in order to support and maintain production of their calcium carbonate skeletons. Together, changes in ocean temperatures and seawater pH pose serious threats to coral reefs, foundational ecosystems that provide habitat for countless essential fisheries, while also acting as natural buffers from storms and providing major economic support for tropical coastal communities. Identifying how these global scale stressors impact Caribbean coral reefs is critical in understanding community composition and coral abundance on future reefs. This dissertation employs an interdisciplinary suite of techniques to assess the impacts of ocean acidification and warming on the growth and physiology of Caribbean corals to improve understandings of the responses of coral under projected global change, and provide a framework for similar future studies. Through the use of a meta-analysis (Chapter 1), I identified trends in coral calcification throughout the Greater Caribbean Sea in response to experimental ocean acidification and warming, and performed quantitative assessment of experimental design effects on coral calcification rates. I then conducted a 93- day simulated ocean acidification and warming mesocosm experiment to identify growth (Chapter 2, 4) and physiological (Chapter 3) responses of several species of common Caribbean corals. The results from this work highlight the diversity of responses of Caribbean corals to projected global change at individual and species levels, as well as between the coral host and algal endosymbiont. Overall, the variation in growth and physiological responses of these important Caribbean coral species under ocean acidification and warming is critical in predicting the future ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ of Caribbean reefs as global change unfolds.

Continue reading ‘Regional and species level responses of Scleractinian corals under global change within the Caribbean Sea’

Air-sea CO2 flux in an equatorial continental shelf dominated by coral reefs (Southwestern Atlantic Ocean)


•Air-sea CO2 fluxes and carbonate chemistry were investigated in coral reef-dominated waters (SW Atlantic).

•The relationship between nTA and nDIC evidenced occurrence of CaCO3 calcification in coral reefs.

•CaCO3 calcification increased the values of fCO2sw, and lowered the pHT and Ωara.

•Aquatic emissions of CO2 in coral reefs were higher than nearshore and offshore locations.

•The results have implications considering the carbon budget at the SW Atlantic Ocean.


Coral reefs are ecosystems highly vulnerable to changes in seawater carbonate chemistry, including those related to the ocean acidification and global warming. Brazilian coral reefs contains the major area of reefs coverage in the Southwestern (SW) Atlantic Ocean, however, studies aimed at investigating the controls of seawater carbonate chemistry in coral reefs are still overlooked in Brazil. This study comprehends the first investigation of complete seawater carbonate chemistry parameters in a section of the equatorial continental shelf dominated by coral reefs in the SW Atlantic Ocean. The sampling included spatial continuous underway measurements of sea surface CO2 fugacity (fCO2sw), temperature (SST), salinity (SSS), and discrete investigations of total alkalinity (TA), dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC), bicarbonate (HCO3), carbonate (CO32−), and saturation state of aragonite (Ωara). The study was conducted during a dry period (July-2019) in the Marine State Park of Pedra da Risca do Meio (PRM), a marine protected area dominated by coral reef communities. Overall, the coral-reef dominated waters presented higher values of fCO2sw (475 ± 28 μatm), and lower values of pHT (7.98 ± 0.008), CO32− (217 ± 5 μmol kg-1) and Ωara (3.49 ± 0.07), compared to nearshore regions without the influence of coral reef waters, where the averages of fCO2sw, pHT, CO32−, and Ωarawere, respectively, 458 ± 21 μatm, 8.00 ± 0.007, 224 ± 4 μmol kg-1, and 3.58 ± 0.05. The relationship between salinity-normalized TA (nTA) and salinity-normalized DIC (nDIC) showed a slope higher than 1 (1.26) in the coral reef, evidencing the occurrence of calcium carbonate (CaCO3) precipitation and prevalence of inorganic carbon metabolism. The CaCO3 precipitation involves the consumption of TA and DIC in a ratio 2:1, with production of CO2. This mechanism explains the higher values of fCO2sw in the coral reef-dominated waters. The values of fCO2sw were always higher than the atmospheric values (fCO2air), indicating a permanent source of CO2 in the study area during the sampled period. The calculated fluxes of CO2 at the air-sea interface averaged 8.4 ± 6.5 mmolC m-2 d-1 in the coral reef-dominated waters, and these data are higher than those verified in nearshore and offshore locations. These higher emissions of CO2 in coral reef-dominated waters evidence that the carbon budgets calculated for North and Northeastern continental shelf of Brazil must include these environments taking into account the widespread coral reef coverage in the region. This study also confirms that biogeochemical processes occurring in coral reefs are modifying the seawater carbonate chemistry, with implication in the context of the current process of ocean acidification.

Continue reading ‘Air-sea CO2 flux in an equatorial continental shelf dominated by coral reefs (Southwestern Atlantic Ocean)’

Insights from extreme coral reefs in a changing world

Coral reefs are one of the most biodiverse and economically important ecosystems in the world, but they are rapidly degrading due to the effects of global climate change and local anthropogenic stressors. Reef scientists are increasingly studying coral reefs that occur in marginal and extreme environments to understand how organisms respond to, and cope with, environmental stress, and to gain insight into how reef organisms may acclimate or adapt to future environmental change. To date, there have been more than 860 publications describing the biology and/or abiotic conditions of marginal and extreme reef environments, most of which were published within the past decade. These include systems characterized by unusually high, low, and/or variable temperatures (intertidal, lagoonal, high-latitude areas, and shallow seas), turbid or urban environments, acidified habitats, and mesophotic depth, and focus on reefs geographically spread throughout most of the tropics. The papers in this special issue of Coral Reefs, entitled Coral Reefs in a Changing World: Insights from Extremes, build on the growing body of literature on these unique and important ecosystems, providing a deeper understanding of the patterns and processes governing life in marginal reef systems, and the implications that these insights may have for the future of tropical coral reefs in our rapidly changing world.

Continue reading ‘Insights from extreme coral reefs in a changing world’

Prior exposure to elevated pCO2 does not affect calcification of a tropical scleractinian when returned to ambient pCO2


•Coral reefs experience biologically-driven pCO2 oscillations

•Calcification of A. retusa with two pCO2 exposure histories differed.

•When subsequently placed in common pCO2 environment, calcification was similar.

•Some corals are capable of a reversible plastic response of calcification.


Coral reefs experience biologically-driven pCO2 oscillations that are predicted to become more extreme in magnitude and duration under ocean acidification (OA) regimes. Understanding the plasticity of responses in common reef-building corals to oscillations in pCO2 will allow for better predictions of their function in future seawater conditions. This study explored the effects of variation in seawater pCO2 on coral calcification using experiments conducted over one month between 9 April 2018 and 18 May 2018. Branches (~4-cm long) of Acropora retusa were sampled from colonies at 10-m depth on the fore reef of Mo’orea, French Polynesia (17° 28′ 53.9004″ S, 149° 49′ 50.5992″ W). We tested the hypothesis that depressed calcification caused by elevated pCO2 (~1000 μatm) is relaxed (i.e., calcification increases) upon return to ambient pCO2 (~400 μatm). Corals first were incubated in ambient or elevated pCO2 for 19 days, with the result that calcification integrated over this period was reduced by 31% under elevated pCO2. The same corals were then incubated at ambient pCO2 for 11 days, during which calcification was independent of the experimental pCO2 exposure history. Our results suggest that a quick relaxation of pCO2-depressed calcification in A. retusa following cessation of high pCO2 indicates that corals are capable of a reversible plastic response of calcification when confronted by pCO2 oscillations.

Continue reading ‘Prior exposure to elevated pCO2 does not affect calcification of a tropical scleractinian when returned to ambient pCO2’

How does the sexual reproduction of marine life respond to ocean acidification?

Recent research indicates that synchronicity of sexual reproduction in coral spawning events is breaking down, leading to aging populations and decreased recruitment success. In this perspective, we develop a hypothesis that this phenomenon could be caused by ongoing ocean acidification (OA). We hypothesize, that the underlying physiological machinery could be the carbon concentrating mechanism (CCM). The endosymbiotic zooxanthellae of corals could use this mechanism to sense calm water motion states in a comparable way to that known from macroalgae. In macroalgae, it is well-established that dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) acts as the trigger for signaling low water motion. Hence, evolutionarily developed signals of low water motion, suited for gamete-release, may be misleading in the future, potentially favoring opportunistic species in a broad range of marine organisms.

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Pacific-wide pH snapshots reveal that high coral cover correlates with low, but variable pH

Ocean acidification (OA) is impairing the construction of coral reefs while simultaneously accelerating their breakdown. The metabolism of different reef organism assemblages alters seawater pH in different ways, possibly buffering or exacerbating OA impacts. In spite of this, field data relating benthic community structure and seawater pH are sparse. We collected pH time-series data snapshots at 10 m depth from 28 different reefs (n = 13 lagoon, n = 15 fore reef) across 22 Pacific islands, spanning 31° latitude and 90° longitude. Coincident with all deployments, we measured percent cover of the benthic community. On fore reefs, high coral cover (CC) negatively correlated with mean and minimum pH, but positively correlated with pH variability. Conversely, pH minima were positively correlated to coverage of coralline and turf algae. Benthic cover did not correlate with pH in lagoonal reefs. From 0%–100% CC, mean pH and aragonite saturation state (Ωarag ) declined −0.081 and −0.51, respectively, while declines in minimum values were greater (Δmin pH = −0.164, Δmin Ωarag = −0.96). Based upon previously published relationships, the mean pH decline from 0%–100% CC would depress coral calcification 7.7%–18.0% and increase biologically-mediated dissolution 13.5%–27.9%, with pH minima depressing dark coral calcification 14.4%–35.2% and increasing biologically-mediated dissolution 31.0%–62.2%. This spatially expansive dataset provides evidence that coral reefs with the highest coral cover may experience the lowest and most extreme pH values with OA.

Continue reading ‘Pacific-wide pH snapshots reveal that high coral cover correlates with low, but variable pH’

Influence of water masses on the biodiversity and biogeography of deep-sea benthic ecosystems in the North Atlantic

Circulation patterns in the North Atlantic Ocean have changed and re-organized multiple times over millions of years, influencing the biodiversity, distribution, and connectivity patterns of deep-sea species and ecosystems. In this study, we review the effects of the water mass properties (temperature, salinity, food supply, carbonate chemistry, and oxygen) on deep-sea benthic megafauna (from species to community level) and discussed in future scenarios of climate change. We focus on the key oceanic controls on deep-sea megafauna biodiversity and biogeography patterns. We place particular attention on cold-water corals and sponges, as these are ecosystem-engineering organisms that constitute vulnerable marine ecosystems (VME) with high associated biodiversity. Besides documenting the current state of the knowledge on this topic, a future scenario for water mass properties in the deep North Atlantic basin was predicted. The pace and severity of climate change in the deep-sea will vary across regions. However, predicted water mass properties showed that all regions in the North Atlantic will be exposed to multiple stressors by 2100, experiencing at least one critical change in water temperature (+2°C), organic carbon fluxes (reduced up to 50%), ocean acidification (pH reduced up to 0.3), aragonite saturation horizon (shoaling above 1000 m) and/or reduction in dissolved oxygen (>5%). The northernmost regions of the North Atlantic will suffer the greatest impacts. Warmer and more acidic oceans will drastically reduce the suitable habitat for ecosystem-engineers, with severe consequences such as declines in population densities, even compromising their long-term survival, loss of biodiversity and reduced biogeographic distribution that might compromise connectivity at large scales. These effects can be aggravated by reductions in carbon fluxes, particularly in areas where food availability is already limited. Declines in benthic biomass and biodiversity will diminish ecosystem services such as habitat provision, nutrient cycling, etc. This study shows that the deep-sea VME affected by contemporary anthropogenic impacts and with the ongoing climate change impacts are unlikely to withstand additional pressures from more intrusive human activities. This study serves also as a warning to protect these ecosystems through regulations and by tempering the ongoing socio-political drivers for increasing exploitation of marine resources.

Continue reading ‘Influence of water masses on the biodiversity and biogeography of deep-sea benthic ecosystems in the North Atlantic’

Regulation of ion transport and energy metabolism enables certain coral genotypes to maintain calcification under experimental ocean acidification

Cold‐water corals (CWCs) are important foundation species in the world’s largest ecosystem, the deep sea. They support a rich faunal diversity but are threatened by climate change and increased ocean acidification. As part of this study, fragments from three genetically distinct Lophelia pertusa colonies were subjected to ambient pH (pH = 7.9) and low pH (pH = 7.6) for 6 months. RNA was sampled at 2, 4.5, and 8.5 weeks and sequenced. The colony from which the fragments were sampled explained most of the variance in expression patterns, but a general pattern emerged where up‐regulation of ion transport, required to maintain normal function and calcification, was coincident with lowered expression of genes involved in metabolic processes; RNA regulation and processing in particular. Furthermore, there was no differential expression of carbonic anhydrase detected in any analyses, which agrees with a previously described lack of response in enzyme activity in the same corals. However, one colony was able to maintain calcification longer than the other colonies when exposed to low pH and showed increased expression of ion transport genes including proton transport and expression of genes associated with formation of microtubules and the organic matrix, suggesting that certain genotypes may be better equipped to cope with ocean acidification in the future. While these genotypes exist in the contemporary gene pool, further stresses would reduce the genetic variability of the species, which would have repercussions for the maintenance of existing populations and the ecosystem as a whole.

Continue reading ‘Regulation of ion transport and energy metabolism enables certain coral genotypes to maintain calcification under experimental ocean acidification’

Pore water conditions driving calcium carbonate dissolution in reef sands

Due to decreases in seawater pH resulting from ocean acidification, permeable calcium carbonate reef sands are predicted to be net dissolving by 2050. However, the rate of dissolution and factors that control this rate remain poorly understood. Experiments performed in benthic chambers predict that reefs will become net dissolving when the aragonite saturation state (Ωa) in sea water falls below ∼ 3, as underlying reef sediments start net dissolution due to lower saturation states in the pore water. We used flow-through reactors to investigate the rate of dissolution at various Ωa at the pore scale. The sediment became net dissolving at Ωa = 1.68 – 2.25, which is significantly greater than 1. This indicates that the bulk pore water does not represent conditions at the site of dissolution, and dissolution probably occurs in microniches inside porous sand grains. Measured dissolution rates were much higher under oxic conditions than anoxic conditions, but were not affected by the addition of carbonic anhydrase. Analysis of δ13C-CO2 produced in the flow-through reactors revealed a bias in the conventional alkalinity anomaly method under anoxic conditions, showing that some of the CO2 attributed to metabolism by may actually be derived from carbonate dissolution. This deviation likely originates from alkalinity consumption by fermentation, which masks the alkalinity generated by dissolution. Therefore, dissolution rates determined by alkalinity changes in reef sands with anaerobic metabolisms may underestimate actual values.

Continue reading ‘Pore water conditions driving calcium carbonate dissolution in reef sands’

Coral persistence despite extreme periodic pH fluctuations at a volcanically acidified Caribbean reef

Naturally acidified environments, such as those caused by volcanic CO2 venting, reveal how complex coral reef ecosystems may respond to future ocean acidification conditions. Few of these sites have been described worldwide, and only a single such site is known from the Caribbean. Herein, we have characterized an area of volcanic acidification at Mayreau Island, St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Despite localized CO2 enrichment and gas venting, the surrounding area has high hard and soft coral cover, as well as extensive carbonate frameworks. Twice daily extremes in acidification, in some cases leading to undersaturation of aragonite, are correlated with tidal fluctuations and are likely related to water flow. Corals persisting despite this periodic acidification can provide insights into mechanisms of resilience and the importance of natural pH variability on coral reefs.

Continue reading ‘Coral persistence despite extreme periodic pH fluctuations at a volcanically acidified Caribbean reef’

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Ocean acidification in the IPCC AR5 WG II

OUP book