Posts Tagged 'corals'

Ecotoxicological responses of a reef calcifier exposed to copper, acidification and warming: a multiple biomarker approach


• Copper increased bleaching, respiration and inhibited calcification-related enzymes.

• Thermal stress was the main driver of mortality.

• Relative tolerance to climate change scenario (ocean warming + acidification).

• Integrated biomarker response related more to co-exposures than isolated biomarkers.

• Integrated analysis showed higher stress under climate change + copper condition.


Multiple global and local stressors threat coral reefs worldwide, and symbiont-bearing foraminifera are bioindicators of reef health. The aim of this study was to investigate single and combined effects of copper (Cu) and climate change related stressors (ocean acidification and warming) on a symbiont-bearing foraminifer by means of an integrated biomarker analysis. Using a mesocosm approach, Amphistegina gibbosa were exposed for 25 days to acidification, warming and/or Cu contamination on a full orthogonal design (two levels each factor). Cu was the main factor increasing bleaching and respiration rates. Warming was the main cause of mortality and reduced growth. Calcification related enzymes were inhibited in response to Cu exposure and, in general, the inhibition was stronger under climate change. Multiple biological endpoints responded to realistic exposure scenarios in different ways, but evidenced general stress posed by climate change combined with Cu. These biological responses drove the high values found for the ‘stress index’ IBR (Integrated Biomarker Response) – indicating general organismal health impairment under the multiple stressor scenario. Our results provide insights for coral reef management by detecting potential monitoring tools. The ecotoxicological responses indicated that Cu reduces the tolerance of foraminifera to climate change (acidification + warming). Once the endpoints analysed have a high ecological relevance, and that responses were evaluated on a classical reef bioindicator species, these results highlight the high risk of climate change and metal pollution co-exposure to coral reefs. Integrated responses allowed a better effects comprehension and are pointed as a promising tool to monitor pollution effects on a changing ocean.

Continue reading ‘Ecotoxicological responses of a reef calcifier exposed to copper, acidification and warming: a multiple biomarker approach’

Independent effects of ocean warming versus acidification on the growth, survivorship and physiology of two Acropora corals

Climate change is the greatest threat to coral reef ecosystems. Importantly, gradual changes in seawater chemistry compounds upon increasing temperatures leading to declines in calcification and survivorship of reef-building corals. To assess relative versus synergistic effects of warming versus ocean acidification, Acropora muricata and Acropora hyacinthus were subjected to three temperature treatments (26 °C, 28.5 °C, 31 °C) crossed with three levels of pCO2 (410 μatm, 652 μatm, 934 μatm), representing current, mid and end-of-century scenarios for 12 weeks. Temperature increased gradually in the tanks from 26 °C to target temperatures over 5 weeks. Once stress was evident in the 31 °C (+ 2.5 °C above historical summer max) tanks, water temperature was decreased to normal summertime levels (29 °C) to assess recovery. pCO2 was gradually changed from control values (410 μatm) to target values over a 3 week period where they remained constant until the end of the experiment at 12 weeks. Temperature stress (31 °C) significantly impacted survivorship (90–95% decline), and over the long-term, there was a 50–90% decline in calcification across both coral species. Negative effects of mid and end-of-century pCO2 were largely independent of temperature and caused moderate reductions (36–74%) in calcification rates compared to temperature, over the long-term. Corals that survived temperature stress had higher lipid and protein content, showing that enhanced physiological condition provides an increased capacity to tolerate adverse temperatures. This study demonstrates that given the mortality rates in response to + 2.5 °C temperature stress, warming oceans (as opposed to ocean acidification) throughout the remainder of this century poses the greatest threat to reef-building corals.

Continue reading ‘Independent effects of ocean warming versus acidification on the growth, survivorship and physiology of two Acropora corals’

Intercomparison of four methods to estimate coral calcification under various environmental conditions

Coral reefs are constructed by calcifiers that precipitate calcium carbonate to build their shells or skeletons through the process of calcification. Accurately assessing coral calcification rates is crucial to determine the health of these ecosystems and their response to major environmental changes such as ocean warming and acidification. Several approaches have been used to assess rates of coral calcification but there is a real need to compare these approaches in order to ascertain that high quality and intercomparable results can be produced. Here, we assessed four methods (total alkalinity anomaly, calcium anomaly, 45Ca incorporation and 13C incorporation) to determine coral calcification of the reef-building coral Stylophora pistillata. Given the importance of environmental conditions on this process, the study was performed under two pH (ambient and low level) and two light (light and dark) conditions. Under all conditions, calcification rates estimated using the alkalinity and calcium anomaly techniques as well as 45Ca incorporation were highly correlated. Such a strong correlation between the alkalinity anomaly and 45Ca incorporation techniques has not been observed in previous studies and most probably results from improvements described in the present paper. The only method which provided calcification rates significantly different from the other three techniques was 13C incorporation. Calcification rates based on this method were consistently higher than those measured using the other techniques. Although reasons for these discrepancies remain unclear, the use of this technique for assessing calcification rates in corals is not recommended without further investigations.

Continue reading ‘Intercomparison of four methods to estimate coral calcification under various environmental conditions’

In situ growth and bioerosion rates of Lophelia pertusa in a Norwegian fjord and open shelf cold-water coral habitat

Coral reef resilience depends on the balance between carbonate precipitation, leading to reef growth, and carbonate degradation, for example, through bioerosion. Changes in environmental conditions are likely to affect the two processes differently, thereby shifting the balance between reef growth and degradation. In cold-water corals estimates of accretion-erosion processes in their natural habitat are scarce and solely live coral growth rates were studied with regard to future environmental changes in the laboratory so far, limiting our ability to assess the potential of cold-water coral reef ecosystems to cope with environmental changes. In the present study, growth rates of the two predominant colour morphotypes of live Lophelia pertusa as well as bioerosion rates of dead coral framework were assessed in different environmental settings in Norwegian cold-water coral reefs in a 1-year in situ experiment. Net growth (in weight gain and linear extension) of live L. pertusa was in the lower range of previous estimates and did not significantly differ between inshore (fjord) and offshore (open shelf) habitats. However, slightly higher net growth rates were obtained inshore. Bioerosion rates were significantly higher on-reef in the fjord compared to off-reef deployments in- and offshore. Besides, on-reef coral fragments yielded a broader range of individual growth and bioerosion rates, indicating higher turnover in live reef structures than off-reef with regard to accretion-bioerosion processes. Moreover, if the higher variation in growth rates represents a greater variance in (genetic) adaptations to natural environmental variability in the fjord, inshore reefs could possibly benefit under future ocean change compared to offshore reefs. Although not significantly different due to high variances between replicates, growth rates of orange branches were consistently higher at all sites, while mortality was statistically significantly lower, potentially indicating higher stress-resistance than the less pigmented white phenotype. Comparing the here measured rates of net accretion of live corals (regardless of colour morphotype) with net erosion of dead coral framework gives a first estimate of the dimensions of both processes in natural cold-water coral habitats, indicating that calcium carbonate loss through bioerosion amounts to one fifth to one sixth of the production rates by coral calcification (disregarding accretion processes of other organisms and proportion of live and dead coral framework in a reef). With regard to likely accelerating bioerosion and diminishing growth rates of corals under ocean acidification, the balance of reef accretion and degradation may be shifted towards higher biogenic dissolution in the future.

Continue reading ‘In situ growth and bioerosion rates of Lophelia pertusa in a Norwegian fjord and open shelf cold-water coral habitat’

Reef dissolution : rates and mechanisms of coral dissolution by bioeroding sponges and reef communities

For coral reefs to persist, the rate of CaCO3 production must be greater than the rate of erosion to enable positive growth. Negative impacts of global change (ocean acidification and warming) and local stressors (eutrophication, overfishing) on accretion co-occur with positive effects of these changes on bioerosion capacity and chemical dissolution by excavating euendolithic organisms. This is especially relevant for reefs characterised with low calcifying rates as they will tip faster into net loss. The Caribbean reefs suffered from a decrease by up to 80% in scleractinian coral cover in the past 50 years, their configuration bears very little resemblance with reefs pre1980s, in terms of benthic composition, coral cover and structural complexity. Specifically, excavating sponges can contribute up to 90% of the total macroborer activity on coral reefs and their rates of bioerosion are positively affected by pCO2. The overarching aim of this thesis was to quantify and understand the accretion and loss terms of coral reef communities with a focus on the interactions of anthropogenic ocean acidification and eutrophication with bioerosion by coral-excavating sponges.The use of incubations was central in this piece of work. Changes in the chemical composition of the water overlying sponges and reef communities indicate the relative contribution of metabolic processes such as net calcification/dissolution and net respiration/production. However, we first used fluorescence microscopy to investigate the underlying mechanisms of CaCO3 dissolution by excavating sponges. It revealed that they promote CaCO3 dissolution by decreasing pH at the sponge/coral interface. The high [H+] at this site is achieved through delivery of low-pH vesicles by the etching cells. The enzyme carbonic anhydrase, which is responsible for significantly increasing the speed of the reversible reaction H2O+CO2↔H++HCO3−, has been shown to be associated to the sponge’s etching processes and is therefore thought to play a role in the dissolution of CaCO3. By blocking its activity whilst incubating sponges and analysing the rate of dissolution, CA was found to play an important role in speeding up protonation of HCO3− ions at the dissolution site, enabling CO2 to diffuse out of the etching area. When exposed to different ranges of ocean acidification and eutrophication, bioerosion rates increased with both variables but no synergistic relation was revealed. Incubations performed at the community level around Saba and Curacao yielded net community calcification (NCC) rates which were lower than those reported for reef flats worldwide. Still, Saba coral reefs are considered relatively pristine sites compared to the average within the wider Caribbean. Around Curaçao, incubations on reef assemblages dominated by coral yielded even lower NCC rates. Incubations of other benthic assemblages that currently characterized shallow Caribbean reef substrate (such as bioeroding sponges, benthic cyanobacterial mats and sand) all resulted in net dissolution. For both Saba and Curaçao, results suggest that reef calcification on these sites is barely able to compensate the CaCO3 losses due to dissolution from other opportunistic benthic residents. With the ongoing global and local pressures, the delicate balance between CaCO3 accretion and loss is likely to tip.

Continue reading ‘Reef dissolution : rates and mechanisms of coral dissolution by bioeroding sponges and reef communities’

Influence of the seagrass Thalassia hemprichii on coral reef mesocosms exposed to ocean acidification and experimentally elevated temperatures


• The combined effect of OA and rising temperatures stimulated the growth of macroalgae.

• OA resulted in higher coral calcification rates when corals were co-incubated with seagrass.

• Macroalgal growth was lower in seagrass-containing mesocosms.

• Coral and macroalgal, but not seagrass, growth suffered at 31°C under OA conditions.

• Seagrass helped to stabilize the system’s metabolism in response to projected climate change stressors.


Ocean acidification (OA) and warming currently threaten coastal ecosystems across the globe. However, it is possible that the former process could actually benefit marine plants, such as seagrasses. The purpose of this study was to examine whether the effects of the seagrass Thalassia hemprichii can increase the resilience of OA-challenged coral reef mesocosms whose temperatures were gradually elevated. It was found that shoot density, photosynthetic efficiency, and leaf growth rate of the seagrass actually increased with rising temperatures under OA. Macroalgal growth rates were higher in the seagrass-free mesocosms, but the calcification rate of the model reef coral Pocillopora damicornis was higher in coral reef mesocosms featuring seagrasses under OA condition at 25 and 28°C. Both the macroalgal growth rate and the coral calcification rate decreased in all mesocosms when the temperature was raised to 31°C under OA conditions. However, the variation in gross primary production, ecosystem respiration, and net ecosystem production in the seagrass mesocosms was lower than in seagrass-free controls, suggesting that the presence of seagrass in the mesocosms helped to stabilize the metabolism of the system in response to simulated climate change.

Continue reading ‘Influence of the seagrass Thalassia hemprichii on coral reef mesocosms exposed to ocean acidification and experimentally elevated temperatures’

Coral reef monitoring, reef assessment technologies, and ecosystem-based management

Coral reefs are exceptionally biodiverse and human dependence on their ecosystem services is high. Reefs experience significant direct and indirect anthropogenic pressures, and provide a sensitive indicator of coastal ocean health, climate change, and ocean acidification, with associated implications for society. Monitoring coral reef status and trends is essential to better inform science, management and policy, but the projected collapse of reef systems within a few decades makes the provision of accurate and actionable monitoring data urgent. The Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network has been the foundation for global reporting on coral reefs for two decades, and is entering into a new phase with improved operational and data standards incorporating the Essential Ocean Variables (EOVs) ( and Framework for Ocean Observing developed by the Global Ocean Observing System. Three EOVs provide a robust description of reef health: hard coral cover and composition, macro-algal canopy cover, and fish diversity and abundance. A data quality model based on comprehensive metadata has been designed to facilitate maximum global coverage of coral reef data, and tangible steps to track capacity building. Improved monitoring of events such as mass bleaching and disease outbreaks, citizen science, and socio-economic monitoring have the potential to greatly improve the relevance of monitoring to managers and stakeholders, and to address the complex and multi- dimensional interactions between reefs and people. A new generation of autonomous vehicles (underwater, surface, and aerial) and satellites are set to revolutionize and vastly expand our understanding of coral reefs. Promising approaches include Structure from Motion image processing, and acoustic techniques. Across all systems, curation of data in linked and open online databases, with an open data culture to maximize benefits from data integration, and empowering users to take action, are priorities. Action in the next decade will be essential to mitigate the impacts on coral reefs from warming temperatures, through local management and informing national and international obligations, particularly in the context of the Sustainable Development Goals, climate action, and the role of coral reefs as a global indicator. Mobilizing data to help drive the needed behavior change is a top priority for coral reef observing systems.

Continue reading ‘Coral reef monitoring, reef assessment technologies, and ecosystem-based management’

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Ocean acidification in the IPCC AR5 WG II

OUP book