Posts Tagged 'corals'

Effects of nearshore processes on carbonate chemistry dynamics and ocean acidification

Time series from open ocean fixed stations have robustly documented secular changes in carbonate chemistry and long-term ocean acidification (OA) trends as a direct response to increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2). However, few high-frequency coastal carbon time series are available in reef systems, where most affected tropical marine organisms reside. Seasonal variations in carbonate chemistry at Cheeca Rocks (CR), Florida, and La Parguera (LP), Puerto Rico, are presented based on 8 and 10 years of continuous, high-quality measurements, respectively. This dissertation synthesizes autonomous and bottle observations to model carbonate chemistry and to understand how physical and biological processes affect seasonal carbonate chemistry at both locations. The autonomous carbonate chemistry and oxygen observations are used to examine a mass balance approach using a 1-D model to determine net rates of ecosystem calcification and production (NEC and NEP) from communities close (<5km) to the buoys. The results provide evidence to suggest that seasonal response between benthic metabolism and seawater chemistry at LP is attenuated relative to that at CR because their differences in benthic cover and how benthic metabolism modifies the water chemistry. Simple linear trends cannot explain the feedback between metabolism and reef water chemistry using long-term observations over natural variations. The effects of community production on partial pressure of CO2 (pCO2sw) make these interactions complex at short- and long-term scales. Careful consideration should be taken when inferring local biogeochemical processes, given that pCO2sw (and presumably pH) respond on much shorter time and local scales than dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) and total alkalinity (TA). The observations highlight the need for more comprehensive observing systems that can reliably measure both the fast-response (pCO2sw, pH) and slow-response (DIC) carbon pools.

Continue reading ‘Effects of nearshore processes on carbonate chemistry dynamics and ocean acidification’

Crumbling reefs and cold-water coral habitat loss in a future ocean: evidence of “coralporosis” as an indicator of habitat integrity

Ocean acidification is a threat to the net growth of tropical and deep-sea coral reefs, due to gradual changes in the balance between reef growth and loss processes. Here we go beyond identification of coral dissolution induced by ocean acidification and identify a mechanism that will lead to a loss of habitat in cold-water coral reef habitats on an ecosystem-scale. To quantify this, we present in situ and year-long laboratory evidence detailing the type of habitat shift that can be expected (in situ evidence), the mechanisms underlying this (in situ and laboratory evidence), and the timescale within which the process begins (laboratory evidence). Through application of engineering principals, we detail how increased porosity in structurally critical sections of coral framework will lead to crumbling of load-bearing material, and a potential collapse and loss of complexity of the larger habitat. Importantly, in situ evidence highlights that cold-water corals can survive beneath the aragonite saturation horizon, but in a fundamentally different way to what is currently considered a biogenic cold-water coral reef, with a loss of the majority of reef habitat. The shift from a habitat with high 3-dimensional complexity provided by both live and dead coral framework, to a habitat restricted primarily to live coral colonies with lower 3-dimensional complexity represents the main threat to cold-water coral reefs of the future and the biodiversity they support. Ocean acidification can cause ecosystem-scale habitat loss for the majority of cold-water coral reefs.

Continue reading ‘Crumbling reefs and cold-water coral habitat loss in a future ocean: evidence of “coralporosis” as an indicator of habitat integrity’

The Northeast Atlantic is running out of excess carbonate in the horizon of cold-water corals communities

The oceanic uptake of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted by human activities alters the seawater carbonate system. Here, the chemical status of the Northeast Atlantic is examined by means of a high-quality database of carbon variables based on the GO-SHIP A25 section (1997–2018). The increase of atmospheric CO2 leads to an increase in ocean anthropogenic carbon (Cant) and a decrease in carbonate that is unequivocal in the upper and mid-layers (0–2,500 m depth). In the mid-layer, the carbonate content in the Northeast Atlantic is maintained by the interplay between the northward spreading of recently conveyed Mediterranean Water with excess of carbonate and the arrival of subpolar-origin waters close to carbonate undersaturation. In this study we show a progression to undersaturation with respect to aragonite that could compromise the conservation of the habitats and ecosystem services developed by benthic marine calcifiers inhabiting that depth-range, such as the cold-water corals (CWC) communities. For each additional ppm in atmospheric pCO2 the waters surrounding CWC communities lose carbonate at a rate of − 0.17 ± 0.02 μmol kg−1 ppm−1. The accomplishment of global climate policies to limit global warming below 1.5–2 ℃ will avoid the exhaustion of excess carbonate in the Northeast Atlantic.

Continue reading ‘The Northeast Atlantic is running out of excess carbonate in the horizon of cold-water corals communities’

Acclimatization drives differences in reef-building coral calcification rates

Coral reefs are susceptible to climate change, anthropogenic influence, and environmental stressors. However, corals in Kāneʻohe Bay, Hawaiʻi have repeatedly shown resilience and acclimatization to anthropogenically-induced rising temperatures and increased frequencies of bleaching events. Variations in coral and algae cover at two sites—just 600 m apart—at Malaukaʻa fringing reef suggest genetic or environmental differences in coral resilience between sites. A reciprocal transplant experiment was conducted to determine if calcification (linear extension and dry skeletal weight) for dominant reef-building species, Montipora capitata and Porites compressa, varied between the two sites and whether or not parent colony or environmental factors were responsible for the differences. Despite the two sites representing distinct environmental conditions with significant differences between temperature, salinity, and aragonite saturation, M. capitata growth rates remained the same between sites and treatments. However, dry skeletal weight increases in P. compressa were significantly different between sites, but not across treatments, with linear mixed effects model results suggesting heterogeneity driven by environmental differences between sites and the parent colonies. These results provide evidence of resilience and acclimatization for M. capitata and P. compressa. Variability of resilience may be driven by local adaptations at a small, reef-level scale for P. compressa in Kāneʻohe Bay.

Continue reading ‘Acclimatization drives differences in reef-building coral calcification rates’

Environmentally-induced parental or developmental conditioning influences coral offspring ecological performance

The persistence of reef building corals is threatened by human-induced environmental change. Maintaining coral reefs into the future requires not only the survival of adults, but also the influx of recruits to promote genetic diversity and retain cover following adult mortality. Few studies examine the linkages among multiple life stages of corals, despite a growing knowledge of carryover effects in other systems. We provide a novel test of coral parental conditioning to ocean acidification (OA) and tracking of offspring for 6 months post-release to better understand parental or developmental priming impacts on the processes of offspring recruitment and growth. Coral planulation was tracked for 3 months following adult exposure to high pCO2 and offspring from the second month were reciprocally exposed to ambient and high pCO2 for an additional 6 months. Offspring of parents exposed to high pCO2 had greater settlement and survivorship immediately following release, retained survivorship benefits during 1 and 6 months of continued exposure, and further displayed growth benefits to at least 1 month post release. Enhanced performance of offspring from parents exposed to high conditions was maintained despite the survivorship in both treatments declining in continued exposure to OA. Conditioning of the adults while they brood their larvae, or developmental acclimation of the larvae inside the adult polyps, may provide a form of hormetic conditioning, or environmental priming that elicits stimulatory effects. Defining mechanisms of positive acclimatization, with potential implications for carry over effects, cross-generational plasticity, and multi-generational plasticity, is critical to better understanding ecological and evolutionary dynamics of corals under regimes of increasing environmental disturbance. Considering environmentally-induced parental or developmental legacies in ecological and evolutionary projections may better account for coral reef response to the chronic stress regimes characteristic of climate change.

Continue reading ‘Environmentally-induced parental or developmental conditioning influences coral offspring ecological performance’

Responses of coral gastrovascular cavity pH during light and dark incubations to reduced seawater pH suggest species-specific responses to the effects of ocean acidification on calcification

Coral polyps have a fluid-filled internal compartment, the gastrovascular cavity (GVC). Respiration and photosynthesis cause large daily excursions in GVC oxygen concentration (O2) and pH, but few studies have examined how this correlates with calcification rates. We hypothesized that GVC chemistry can mediate and ameliorate the effects of decreasing seawater pH (pHSW) on coral calcification. Microelectrodes were used to monitor O2 and pH within the GVC of Montastraea cavernosa and Duncanopsammia axifuga (pH only) in both the light and the dark, and three pHSW levels (8.2, 7.9, and 7.6). At pHSW 8.2, GVC O2 ranged from ca. 0 to over 400% saturation in the dark and light, respectively, with transitions from low to high (and vice versa) within minutes of turning the light on or off. For all three pHSW treatments and both species, pHGVC was always significantly above and below pHSW in the light and dark, respectively. For M. cavernosa in the light, pHGVC reached levels of pH 8.4–8.7 with no difference among pHSW treatments tested; in the dark, pHGVC dropped below pHSW and even below pH 7.0 in some trials at pHSW 7.6. For D. axifuga in both the light and the dark, pHGVC decreased linearly as pHSW decreased. Calcification rates were measured in the light concurrent with measurements of GVC O2 and pHGVC. For both species, calcification rates were similar at pHSW 8.2 and 7.9 but were significantly lower at pHSW 7.6. Thus, for both species, calcification was protected from seawater acidification by intrinsic coral physiology at pHSW 7.9 but not 7.6. Calcification was not correlated with pHGVC for M. cavernosa but was for D. axifuga. These results highlight the diverse responses of corals to changes in pHSW, their varying abilities to control pHGVC, and consequently their susceptibility to ocean acidification.


Continue reading ‘Responses of coral gastrovascular cavity pH during light and dark incubations to reduced seawater pH suggest species-specific responses to the effects of ocean acidification on calcification’

Paracellular transport to the coral calcifying medium: effects of environmental parameters

Coral calcification relies on the transport of ions and molecules to the extracellular calcifying medium (ECM). Little is known about paracellular transport (via intercellular junctions) in corals and other marine calcifiers. Here, we investigated whether the permeability of the paracellular pathway varied in different environmental conditions in the coral Stylophora pistillata. Using the fluorescent dye calcein, we characterised the dynamics of calcein influx from seawater to the ECM and showed that increases in paracellular permeability (leakiness) induced by hyperosmotic treatment could be detected by changes in calcein influx rates. We then used the calcein-imaging approach to investigate the effects of two environmental stressors on paracellular permeability: seawater acidification and temperature change. Under conditions of seawater acidification (pH 7.2) known to depress pH in the ECM and the calcifying cells of S. pistillata, we observed a decrease in half-times of calcein influx, indicating increased paracellular permeability. By contrast, high temperature (31°C) had no effect, whereas low temperature (20°C) caused decreases in paracellular permeability. Overall, our study establishes an approach to conduct further in vivo investigation of paracellular transport and suggests that changes in paracellular permeability could form an uncharacterised aspect of the physiological response of S. pistillata to seawater acidification.


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Calcification and organic productivity at the world’s southernmost coral reef


  • High-latitude coral reefs are hotspots of ocean change and vulnerable to bleaching.
  • Coral ecosystem calcification in winter was lower than most studied ecosystems.
  • The reef was net heterotrophic in the winter and net respiratory in the summer.
  • Detailed bathymetric observations reduce uncertainties in metabolic calculations.
  • Summer calcification was not driven by temperature or aragonite saturation state.


Estimates of coral reef calcification and organic productivity provide valuable insight to community functionality and the response of an ecosystem to stress events. High-latitude coral reefs are expected to experience rapid changes in calcification rates and become refugia for tropical species following climate change and increasing bleaching events. Here, we estimate ecosystem-scale calcification and organic productivity at the world’s southernmost coral reef using seawater carbon chemistry observations (Lord Howe Island, Australia). We reduce uncertainties in metabolic calculations by producing a detailed bathymetric model and deploying two current meters to refine residence time and volume estimates. Bathymetry-modelled transect depths ranged from 74% shallower to 20% deeper than depths averaged from reef crest/flat current meters, indicating that higher-resolution depth observations help to reduce uncertainties in reef metabolic calculations. Rates of ecosystem calcification were 56.6 ± 14.8 mmol m−2 d−1 in the winter and 125.3 ± 39.4 mmol m−2 d−1 in the summer. These rates are lower than most other high-latitude reefs according to our compilation of high-latitude coral ecosystem metabolism estimates. Coral cover ranged from 14.7 ± 2.3% in winter to 19.8 ± 2.1% in the summer. A concurrent bleaching event and cyclone occurred during summer sampling (February – March 2019), resulting in 47% of corals bleached at the study site and 2% mortality due to cyclonal damage. Therefore, it is likely that the summertime Gnet rates underestimate baseline calcification. Our results enable future assessments of long-term change, but do not resolve the impact of bleaching at Lord Howe Island.


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Controls on the spatio-temporal distribution of microbialite crusts on the Great Barrier Reef over the past 30,000 years


  • Comprehensive dataset of reefal microbial crusts over the past 30,000 years.
  • Modern 3D analysis to assess heterogeneity of microbialites in reef frameworks.
  • Radiocarbon ages show microbialite development coeval with and postdating framework.
  • Microbialite thickness correlates with changes in carbonate saturation level and pH.


Calcification of microbial mats adds significant amounts of calcium carbonate to primary coral reef structures that stabilizes and binds reef frameworks. Previous studies have shown that the distribution and thicknesses of late Quaternary microbial crusts have responded to changes in environmental parameters such as seawater pH, carbonate saturation state, and sediment and nutrient fluxes. However, these studies are few and limited in their spatio-temporal coverage. In this study, we used 3D and 2D examination techniques to investigate the spatio-temporal distribution of microbial crusts and their responses to environmental changes in Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP) Expedition 325 (Great Barrier Reef Environmental Changes) fossil reef cores that span 30 to 10 ka at two locations on the GBR reef margin. Our GBR microbialite record was then combined with a meta-analysis of 17 other reef records to assess global scale changes in microbialite development (i.e., presence/absence, thickness) over the same period. The 3D results were compared with 2D surface area measurements to assess the accuracy of 2D methodology. The 2D technique represents an efficient and accurate proxy for the 3D volume of reef framework components within the bounds of uncertainty (average: 9.45 ± 4.5%). We found that deep water reef frameworks were most suitable for abundant microbial crust development. Consistent with a previous Exp. 325 study (Braga et al., 2019), we also found that crust ages were broadly coeval with coralgal communities in both shallow water and fore-reef settings. However, in some shallow water settings they also occur as the last reef framework binding stage, hundreds of years after the demise of coralgal communities. Lastly, comparisons of crust thickness with changes in environmental conditions between 30 and 10 ka, show a temporal correlation with variations in partial pressure of CO2 (pCO2), calcite saturation state (Ωcalcite), and pH of seawater, particularly during the past ~15 kyr, indicating that these environmental factors likely played a major role in microbialite crust development in the GBR. This supports the view that microbialite crust development can be used as an indicator of ocean acidification.

Continue reading ‘Controls on the spatio-temporal distribution of microbialite crusts on the Great Barrier Reef over the past 30,000 years’

Ocean acidification has impacted coral growth on the Great Barrier Reef

Ocean acidification (OA) reduces the concentration of seawater carbonate ions that stony corals need to produce their calcium carbonate skeletons, and is considered a significant threat to the functional integrity of coral reef ecosystems. However, detection and attribution of OA impact on corals in nature are confounded by concurrent environmental changes, including ocean warming. Here we use a numerical model to isolate the effects of OA and temperature, and show that OA alone has caused 13±3% decline in the skeletal density of massive Porites corals on the Great Barrier Reef since 1950. This OA‐induced thinning of coral skeletons, also evident in Porites from the South China Sea but not in the central equatorial Pacific, reflects enhanced acidification of reef water relative to the surrounding open ocean. Our finding reinforces concerns that even corals that might survive multiple heatwaves are structurally weakened and increasingly vulnerable to the compounding effects of climate change.

Continue reading ‘Ocean acidification has impacted coral growth on the Great Barrier Reef’

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Ocean acidification in the IPCC AR5 WG II

OUP book