Posts Tagged 'corals'

Assessing coral reef condition indicators for local and global stressors using Bayesian networks

Coral reefs are highly valued ecosystems currently threatened by both local and global stressors. Given the importance of coral reef ecosystems, a Bayesian network approach can benefit an evaluation of threats to reef condition. To this end, we used data to evaluate the overlap between local stressors (overfishing and destructive fishing, watershed‐based pollution, marine‐based pollution, and coastal development threats), global stressors (acidification and thermal stress) and management effectiveness with indicators of coral reef health (live coral index, live coral cover, population bleaching, colony bleaching and recently killed corals). Each of the coral health indicators had Bayesian networks constructed globally and for Pacific, Atlantic, Australia, Middle East, Indian Ocean, and Southeast Asia coral reef locations. Sensitivity analysis helped evaluate the strength of the relationships between different stressors and reef condition indicators. The relationships between indicators and stressors were also evaluated with conditional analyses of linear and nonlinear interactions. In this process, a standardized direct effects analysis was emphasized with a target mean analysis to predict changes in the mean value of the reef indicator from individual changes to the distribution of the predictor variables. The standardized direct effects analysis identified higher risks in the Middle East for watershed‐based pollution with population bleaching and Australia for overfishing and destructive fishing with living coral. For thermal stress, colony bleaching and recently killed coral in the Indian Ocean were found to have the strongest direct associations. For acidification threat, Australia had a relatively strong association with colony bleaching and the Middle East had the strongest overall association with recently killed coral although extrapolated spatial data were used for the acidification estimates. The Bayesian network approach helped to explore the relationships among existing databases used for policy development in coral reef management by examining the sensitivity of multiple indicators of reef condition to spatially‐distributed stress.

Continue reading ‘Assessing coral reef condition indicators for local and global stressors using Bayesian networks’

Resilience of the temperate coral Oculina arbuscula to ocean acidification extends to the physiological level

Both juvenile and adult life stages of the temperate scleractinian coral Oculina arbuscula are resilient to the effects of moderate ocean acidification (OA) in contrast to many tropical corals in which growth and calcification rates are suppressed. Here, potential mechanisms of resilience to OA related to photosynthetic physiology and inorganic carbon processing were studied in adult O. arbuscula colonies. After exposing colonies to ambient and elevated carbon dioxide (CO2) treatments for 7 weeks, photosynthetic performance was characterized using photosynthesis versus irradiance experiments, chlorophyll fluorescence kinetics, and algal pigment content. Inorganic carbon-processing capabilities were assessed by measurement of internal and external carbonic anhydrase activity of the coral host, internal carbonic anhydrase activity of symbiotic algae, and the reliance of photosynthesis on external carbonic anhydrase. Photosynthetic physiology was unaffected by OA ruling out the possibility that resilience was mediated by increased photosynthetic energy supply. Carbonic anhydrase activities were maintained at elevated CO2 suggesting no major rearrangements of the inorganic carbon-processing machinery, but this could be a sign of resilience since tropical corals often down-regulate carbonic anhydrases at high CO2. The general lack of effect of ocean acidification on these physiological traits suggests other characteristics, such as maintenance of calcifying fluid pH and ability to acquire energy from heterotrophy, may be more important for the resilience of O. arbuscula to OA.

Continue reading ‘Resilience of the temperate coral Oculina arbuscula to ocean acidification extends to the physiological level’

From particle attachment to space-filling coral skeletons

Reef-building corals and their aragonite (CaCO3) skeletons support entire reef ecosystems, yet their formation mechanism is poorly understood. Here we used synchrotron spectromicroscopy to observe the nanoscale mineralogy of fresh, forming skeletons from six species spanning all reef-forming coral morphologies: Branching, encrusting, massive, and table. In all species, hydrated and anhydrous amorphous calcium carbonate nanoparticles were precursors for skeletal growth, as previously observed in a single species. The amorphous precursors here were observed in tissue, between tissue and skeleton, and at growth fronts of the skeleton, within a low-density nano- or microporous layer varying in thickness from 7 to 20 µm. Brunauer-Emmett-Teller measurements, however, indicated that the mature skeletons at the microscale were space-filling, comparable to single crystals of geologic aragonite. Nanoparticles alone can never fill space completely, thus ion-by-ion filling must be invoked to fill interstitial pores. Such ion-by-ion diffusion and attachment may occur from the supersaturated calcifying fluid known to exist in corals, or from a dense liquid precursor, observed in synthetic systems but never in biogenic ones. Concomitant particle attachment and ion-by-ion filling was previously observed in synthetic calcite rhombohedra, but never in aragonite pseudohexagonal prisms, synthetic or biogenic, as observed here. Models for biomineral growth, isotope incorporation, and coral skeletons’ resilience to ocean warming and acidification must take into account the dual formation mechanism, including particle attachment and ion-by-ion space filling.

Continue reading ‘From particle attachment to space-filling coral skeletons’

Intracellular pH regulation: characterization and functional investigation of H+ transporters in Stylophora pistillata

Background: Reef-building corals regularly experience changes in intra and extracellular H+ concentration ([H+]) due to physiological and environmental processes. Stringent control of [H+] is required for the maintenance of homeostatic acid-base balance in coral cells and is achieved through the regulation of intracellular pH (pHi). This task is especially challenging for reef-building corals that share an endosymbiotic relationship with photosynthetic dinoflagellates (family Symbiodinaceae), which exert a significant effect on the pHi of coral cells. Despite their importance, the pH regulatory proteins involved in the homeostatic acid-base balance have been scarcely investigated in corals. Here, we reported the full characterisation in terms of genomic structure, domain topology and phylogeny of three majors H+ transporter families implicated in pHi regulation; we investigated their tissue-specific expression and we assessed the effect of seawater acidification on their level of expression.

Results: We identified members of the Na+/Hexchanger (SLC9), vacuolar-type electrogenic H+-ATP hydrolases (V-ATPase) and voltage-gated proton channels (HvCN) families in the genome and transcriptome of S. pistillata. In addition, we identified a novel member of the HvCN gene family in the cnidarian subclass Hexacorallia, which has never been described in any species to date. We also reported key residues that participate to the H+ transporters substrate specificity, protein function and regulation. Lastly, we demonstrated that some of these have different tissue expression patterns and are mostly unaffected by exposure to seawater acidification.

Conclusions: In this study, we provide the first characterization of the Htransporters genes that contribute to homeostatic acid-base balance in coral cells. This work will enrich knowledge about basic aspects of coral biology, bearing important implications for our understanding of how corals regulate their intracellular environment.

Continue reading ‘Intracellular pH regulation: characterization and functional investigation of H+ transporters in Stylophora pistillata’

Coral-macroalgal competition under ocean warming and acidification


  • Study investigates a common coral-macroalgal interaction under a low end emission scenario.
  • Light calcification is negatively influenced by an interaction of macroalgal contact and scenario.
  • Protein content, zooxanthellae density and Chlorophyll a were enhanced under scenario conditions.
  • Negative impacts of macroalgae on corals were observed, but not enhanced by scenario conditions.
  • More research on the impacts of climate change on the dynamics of coral-algal interactions is needed.


Competition between corals and macroalgae is frequently observed on reefs with the outcome of these interactions affecting the relative abundance of reef organisms and therefore reef health. Anthropogenic activities have resulted in increased atmospheric CO2 levels and a subsequent rise in ocean temperatures. In addition to increasing water temperature, elevated CO2 levels are leading to a decrease in oceanic pH (ocean acidification). These two changes have the potential to alter ecological processes within the oceans, including the outcome of competitive coral-macroalgal interactions. In our study, we explored the combined effect of temperature increase and ocean acidification on the competition between the coral Porites lobata and on the Great Barrier Reef abundant macroalga Chlorodesmis fastigiata. A temperature increase of +1 °C above present temperatures and CO2 increase of +85 ppm were used to simulate a low end emission scenario for the mid- to late 21st century, according to the Representative Concentration Pathway 2.6 (RCP2.6). Our results revealed that the net photosynthesis of P. lobata decreased when it was in contact with C. fastigiata under ambient conditions, and that dark respiration increased under RCP2.6 conditions. The Photosynthesis to Respiration (P:R) ratios of corals as they interacted with macroalgal competitors were not significantly different between scenarios. Dark calcification rates of corals under RCP2.6 conditions, however, were negative and significantly decreased compared to ambient conditions. Light calcification rates were negatively affected by the interaction of macroalgal contact in the RCP2.6 scenario, compared to algal mimics and to coral under ambient conditions. Chlorophyll a, and protein content increased in the RCP2.6 scenario, but were not influenced by contact with the macroalga. We conclude that the coral host was negatively affected by RCP2.6 conditions, whereas the productivity of its symbionts (zooxanthellae) was enhanced. While a negative effect of the macroalga (C. fastigiata) on the coral (P. lobata) was observed for the P:R ratio under control conditions, it was not enhanced under RCP2.6 conditions.

Continue reading ‘Coral-macroalgal competition under ocean warming and acidification’

Experimental techniques to assess coral physiology in situ: current approaches and novel insights

Coral reefs are declining worldwide due to global changes in the marine environment. The increasing frequency and severity of massive bleaching events in the tropics are highlighting the need to better understand the stages of coral physiological responses to extreme conditions. Moreover, like many other coastal regions, coral reef ecosystems are facing additional localized anthropogenic issues such as nutrient loading, increased turbidity, and coastal development. The changes in coral metabolism under local or global stress conditions is studied largely through laboratory manipulation and field observations. Different strategies have been developed to measure the health status of a damaged reef, ranging from the resolution of individual polyps to an entire coral community, but techniques for measuring coral physiology in situ are not yet widely implemented. For instance, while there are many studies of the coral holobiont response in single or limited-number multiple stressor experiments, they provide only partial insights to metabolic performance under more complex temporally and spatially variable natural conditions. Here, we discuss the current status of coral reefs and their global and local stressors in the context of current experimental techniques that measure core processes in coral metabolism (respiration, photosynthesis, and biocalcification) and their role in indicating the health status of colonies and communities. The state of the art of in situ techniques for experimental and monitoring purposes is explored. We highlight the need to improve the capability of in situ studies in order to better understand the resilience and stress response of corals under multiple global and local scale stressors.

Continue reading ‘Experimental techniques to assess coral physiology in situ: current approaches and novel insights’

High light alongside elevated PCO2 alleviates thermal depression of photosynthesis in a hard coral (Pocillopora acuta)

The absorbtion of human-emitted CO2 by the oceans (elevated PCO2) is projected to alter the physiological performance of coral reef organisms by perturbing seawater chemistry (i.e. ocean acidification). Simultaneously, greenhouse gas emissions are driving ocean warming and changes in irradiance (through turbidity and cloud cover), which have the potential to influence the effects of ocean acidification on coral reefs. Here, we explored whether physiological impacts of elevated PCO2 on a coral–algal symbiosis (Pocillopora acuta–Symbiodiniaceae) are mediated by light and/or temperature levels. In a 39 day experiment, elevated PCO2 (962 versus 431 µatm PCO2) had an interactive effect with midday light availability (400 versus 800 µmol photons m−2 s−1) and temperature (25 versus 29°C) on areal gross and net photosynthesis, for which a decline at 29°C was ameliorated under simultaneous high-PCO2 and high-light conditions. Light-enhanced dark respiration increased under elevated PCO2 and/or elevated temperature. Symbiont to host cell ratio and chlorophyll a per symbiont increased at elevated temperature, whilst symbiont areal density decreased. The ability of moderately strong light in the presence of elevated PCO2 to alleviate the temperature-induced decrease in photosynthesis suggests that higher substrate availability facilitates a greater ability for photochemical quenching, partially offsetting the impacts of high temperature on the photosynthetic apparatus. Future environmental changes that result in moderate increases in light levels could therefore assist the P. acuta holobiont to cope with the ‘one–two punch’ of rising temperatures in the presence of an acidifying ocean.

Continue reading ‘High light alongside elevated PCO2 alleviates thermal depression of photosynthesis in a hard coral (Pocillopora acuta)’

Progressive seawater acidification on the Great Barrier Reef continental shelf

Coral reefs are highly sensitive to ocean acidification due to rising atmospheric CO2 concentrations. We present 10 years of data (2009–2019) on the long-term trends and sources of variation in the carbon chemistry from two fixed stations in the Australian Great Barrier Reef. Data from the subtropical mid-shelf GBRWIS comprised 3-h instrument records, and those from the tropical coastal NRSYON were monthly seawater samples. Both stations recorded significant variation in seawater CO2 fugacity (fCO2), attributable to seasonal, daytime, temperature and salinity fluctuations. Superimposed over this variation, fCO2 progressively increased by > 2.0 ± 0.3 µatm year−1 at both stations. Seawater temperature and salinity also increased throughout the decade, whereas seawater pH and the saturation state of aragonite declined. The decadal upward fCO2 trend remained significant in temperature- and salinity-normalised data. Indeed, annual fCO2 minima are now higher than estimated fCO2 maxima in the early 1960s, with mean fCO2 now ~ 28% higher than 60 years ago. Our data indicate that carbonate dissolution from the seafloor is currently unable to buffer the Great Barrier Reef against ocean acidification. This is of great concern for the thousands of coral reefs and other diverse marine ecosystems located in this vast continental shelf system.

Continue reading ‘Progressive seawater acidification on the Great Barrier Reef continental shelf’

Impact of ocean warming and acidification on symbiosis establishment and gene expression profiles in recruits of reef coral Acropora intermedia

The onset of symbiosis and the early development of most broadcast spawning corals play pivotal roles in recruitment success, yet these critical early stages are threatened by multiple stressors. However, molecular mechanisms governing these critical processes under ocean warming and acidification are still poorly understood. The present study investigated the interactive impact of elevated temperature (∼28.0°C and ∼30.5°C) and partial pressure of carbon dioxide (pCO2) (∼600 and ∼1,200 μatm) on early development and the gene expression patterns in juvenile Acropora intermedia over 33 days. The results showed that coral survival was >89% and was unaffected by high temperature, pCO2, or the combined treatment. Notably, high temperature completely arrested successful symbiosis establishment and the budding process, whereas acidification had a negligible effect. Moreover, there was a positive exponential relationship between symbiosis establishment and budding rates (y = 0.0004e6.43xR = 0.72, P < 0.0001), which indicated the importance of symbiosis in fueling asexual budding. Compared with corals at the control temperature (28°C), those under elevated temperature preferentially harbored Durusdinium spp., despite unsuccessful symbiosis establishment. In addition, compared to the control, 351 and 153 differentially expressed genes were detected in the symbiont and coral host in response to experimental conditions, respectively. In coral host, some genes involved in nutrient transportation and tissue fluorescence were affected by high temperature. In the symbionts, a suite of genes related to cell growth, ribosomal proteins, photosynthesis, and energy production was downregulated under high temperatures, which may have severely hampered successful cell proliferation of the endosymbionts and explains the failure of symbiosis establishment. Therefore, our results suggest that the responses of symbionts to future ocean conditions could play a vital role in shaping successful symbiosis in juvenile coral.

Continue reading ‘Impact of ocean warming and acidification on symbiosis establishment and gene expression profiles in recruits of reef coral Acropora intermedia’

Seasonal controls of the carbon biogeochemistry of a fringing coral reef in the Gulf of California, Mexico

The surface of the ocean has absorbed one-third of the CO2gas that has been released by anthropogenic activities, which has resulted in a reduction in pH and the aragonite saturation state (Ωara) with potential negative impacts in calcifying organisms, such as corals. To evaluate these effects, the natural variability present must first be understood, including that of processes that operate at diurnal, seasonal, and interannual frequencies. The objective of this study was to determine the influence of physical and biogeochemical processes on the seasonal variability of the CO2-system in a fringe coral reef of the Eastern Tropical Pacific (ETP). To achieve this, a SeapHOx sensor was installed to measure temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, and pHTot at 30-min intervals from November 2013 (early winter) to July 2014 (early summer). The recorded temperature and salinity data fed a mixing model to identify the water masses present in the reef. We show how physical and biogeochemical oceanic processes influence and control the variability of the carbonate system. The presence of water masses with different carbon chemistries responded to two scenarios: (1) seasonal circulation on the order of months and (2) an intermittence between water masses related to mesoscale structures (eddies) on the order of weeks. A low-pH and Ωara condition was detected during summer, which was related to the presence of warm and respired Tropical Surface Water. The broadest changes in Ωara were the result of physical processes (winter ΔΩara = 0.14 and summer ΔΩara = 0.34 units) and corresponded to the transition between water masses with different carbon-biogeochemistry signals. Our results suggest that the Cabo Pulmo coral community develops in an environment with a wide range of pH and Ωara conditions and that seasonal changes are controlled by open ocean carbon biogeochemistry.

Continue reading ‘Seasonal controls of the carbon biogeochemistry of a fringing coral reef in the Gulf of California, Mexico’

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Ocean acidification in the IPCC AR5 WG II

OUP book