Posts Tagged 'corals'

Effects of temperature and pH on the growth, calcification, and biomechanics of two species of articulated coralline algae

Ocean warming and acidification are predicted to impact the physiology of marine organisms, especially marine calcifiers that must deposit calcium carbonate and resist dissolution. Of particular concern are articulated coralline algae, which must maintain both calcified segments (intergenicula) and uncalcified joints (genicula) in order to thrive along wave-swept rocky coastlines. We examined the effect of pH and temperature, both individually and in combination, on the growth, calcification, and biomechanical properties of 2 species of articulated coralline algae, Corallina vancouveriensis and Calliarthron tuberculosum, common on wave-exposed shores in the NE Pacific. Increased temperature and reduced pH were found to reduce growth rates in both species (30-89% lower) but had little influence on the amount of intergenicular calcium carbonate or on the genicular biomechanical properties of these species. Results suggest that although growth rates may decline, these 2 coralline species will maintain the integrity of their tissues and continue to persist under future climate stress.

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Sea surface carbonate dynamics at reefs of Bolinao, Philippines: seasonal variation and fish mariculture-induced forcing

Coral reefs are vulnerable to global ocean acidification (OA) and local human activities will continue to exacerbate coastal OA. In Bolinao, Philippines, intense unregulated fish mariculture has resulted in regional eutrophication. In order to examine the coastal acidification associated with this activity and the impact on nearby coral reefs, water quality and carbonate chemistry parameters were measured at three reef sites, a mariculture site and an offshore, minimally impacted control site during both the wet and dry season. Additionally, benthic community composition was characterized at reef sites, and both autonomous carbonate chemistry sampling and high-frequency pH measurements were used to characterize fine-scale (diel) temporal variability. Water quality was found to be poorer at all reefs during the wet season, when there was stronger outflow of waters from the mariculture area. Carbonate chemistry parameters differed significantly across the reef flat and between seasons, with more acidic conditions occurring during the dry season and increased primary production suppressing further acidification during the wet season. Significant relationships of both total alkalinity (TA) and dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) with salinity across all stations may imply outflow of acidified water originating from the mariculture area where pH values as low as 7.78 were measured. This apparent mariculture-induced coastal acidification was likely due to organic matter respiration as sustained mariculture will continue to deliver organic matter. While TA-DIC vector diagrams indicate greater contribution of net primary production, net calcification potential in the nearest reef to mariculture area may already be diminished. The two farther reefs, characterized by higher coral cover, indicates healthier ecosystem functioning. Here we show that unregulated fish mariculture activities can lead to localized acidification and impact reef health. As these conditions at times approximate those projected to occur globally due to OA, our results may provide insight into reef persistence potential worldwide. These results also underscore the importance of coastal acidification and indicate that actions taken to mitigate OA on coral reefs should address not only global CO2 emissions but also local perturbations, in this case fish mariculture-induced eutrophication.

Continue reading ‘Sea surface carbonate dynamics at reefs of Bolinao, Philippines: seasonal variation and fish mariculture-induced forcing’

Transcriptomic stability or lability explains sensitivity to climate stressors in coralline algae

Background

Crustose coralline algae (CCA) are calcifying red macroalgae that play important ecological roles including stabilisation of reef frameworks and provision of settlement cues for a range of marine invertebrates. Previous research into the responses of CCA to ocean warming (OW) and ocean acidification (OA) have found magnitude of effect to be species-specific. Response to OW and OA could be linked to divergent underlying molecular processes across species.

Results

Here we show Sporolithon durum, a species that exhibits low sensitivity to climate stressors, had little change in metabolic performance and did not significantly alter the expression of any genes when exposed to temperature and pH perturbations. In contrast, Porolithon onkodes, a major coral reef builder, reduced photosynthetic rates and had a labile transcriptomic response with over 400 significantly differentially expressed genes, with differential regulation of genes relating to physiological processes such as carbon acquisition and metabolism. The differential gene expression detected in P. onkodes implicates possible key metabolic pathways, including the pentose phosphate pathway, in the stress response of this species.

Conclusions

We suggest S. durum is more resistant to OW and OA than P. onkodes, which demonstrated a high sensitivity to climate stressors and may have limited ability for acclimatisation. Understanding changes in gene expression in relation to physiological processes of CCA could help us understand and predict how different species will respond to, and persist in, future ocean conditions predicted for 2100.

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Early life stages of a Mediterranean coral are vulnerable to ocean warming and acidification (update)

The ability of coral populations to recover from disturbance depends on larval dispersion and recruitment. While ocean warming and acidification effects on adult corals are well documented, information on early life stages is comparatively scarce. Here, we investigate whether ocean warming and acidification can affect the larval and recruit development of the Mediterranean azooxanthellate coral Astroides calycularis. Larvae and recruits were raised for 9 months at ambient (23 C) and warm (26 C) temperatures and ambient (8.0) and low pH (7.7, on the total scale). The timing of the larval metamorphosis, growth of the recruit polyp by linear extension and budding, and skeletal characteristics of the 9-month-old polyps were monitored. Settlement and metamorphosis were more successful and hastened under a warm temperature. In contrast, low pH delayed the metamorphosis and affected the growth of the recruits by reducing the calcified area of attachment to the substrate as well as by diminishing the skeleton volume and the number of septa. However, skeleton density was higher under low pH and ambient temperature. The warm temperature and low-pH treatment had a negative impact on the survival, settlement, and growth of recruits. This study provides evidence of the threat represented by ocean warming and acidification for the larval recruitment and the growth of recruits of A. calycularis.

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Towards modelling cold-water coral reef-scale crumbling: including morphological variability in mechanical surrogate models

The structural complexity of cold-water corals is threatened by ocean acidification. Increased porosity and weakening of structurally critical parts of the reef framework may lead to rapid physical collapse on an ecosystem scale, reducing their potential for biodiversity support. We can use computational models to describe the mechanisms leading to reef-crumbling. How-ever, the implementation of such models into an efficient predictive tool that allows us to determine risk and timescales of reef collapse is missing. Here, we identified possible surrogate models to represent the branching architecture of the cold-water coral species Lophelia pertusa. For length scales greater than 13 cm, a continuum finite element mechanical approach can be used to analyse mechanical competence whereas at smaller length scales, mechanical surrogate models need to explicitly account for the statistical differences in the structure. We showed large morphological variations between L. pertusa colonies and branches, as well as dead and live skeletal structures, which need to be considered for the development of rapid monitoring tools for predicting risk of cold-water coral reefs crumbling. This will allow us to investigate timescales of changes, including the impact of exposure times to acidified waters on reef-crumbling.

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Intraspecific variation reshapes coral assemblages under elevated temperature and acidity

Insights into assemblages that can persist in extreme environments are still emerging. Ocean warming and acidification select against species with low physiological tolerance (trait-based ‘filtering’). However, intraspecific trait variation can promote species adaptation and persistence, with potentially large effects on assemblage structure. By sampling nine coral traits (four morphological, four tissue and one skeletal) along an offshore–inshore gradient in temperature and pH, we show that distantly related coral species undergo consistent intraspecific changes as they cross into warm, acidic environment. Intraspecific variation and species turnover each favoured colonies with greater tissue biomass, higher symbiont densities and reduced skeletal investments, indicating strong filtering on colony physiology within and across species. Physiological tissue traits were highly variable within species and were independent of morphology, enabling morphologically diverse species to cross into sites of elevated temperature and acidity. Widespread intraspecific change can therefore counter the loss of biodiversity and morphological structure across a steep environmental gradient.

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Co-occurring anthropogenic stressors reduce the timeframe of environmental viability for the world’s coral reefs

Anthropogenic disturbances are posing unprecedented challenges to the persistence of ecosystems worldwide. The speed at which these disturbances reach an ecosystem’s tolerance thresholds will determine the time available for adaptation and conservation. Here, we aim to calculate the year after which a given environmental stressor permanently exceeds the bounds of an ecosystem’s tolerance. Ecosystem thresholds are here defined as limits in a given stressor beyond which ecosystems have showed considerable changes in community assembly and functioning, becoming remnants of what they once were, but not necessarily leading to species extirpation or extinction. Using the world’s coral reefs as a case example, we show that the projected effects of marine heatwaves, ocean acidification, storms, land-based pollution, and local human stressors are being underestimated considerably by looking at disturbances independently. Given the spatial complementarity in which numerous disturbances impact the world’s coral reefs, we show that the timelines of environmental suitability are halved when all disturbances are analyzed simultaneously, as opposed to independently. Under business-as-usual scenarios, the median year after which environmental conditions become unsuitable for the world’s remaining coral reefs was, at worse, 2050 for any one disturbance alone (28 years left); but when analyzed concurrently, this date was shortened to 2035 (13 years left). When analyzed together, disturbances reduced the date of environmental suitability because areas that may remain suitable under one disturbance could become unsuitable by any of several other variables. The significance of co-occurring disturbances at reducing timeframes of environmental suitability was evident even under optimistic scenarios. The best-case scenario, characterized by strong mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions and optimistic human development, resulted in 41% of global coral reefs with unsuitable conditions by 2100 under any one disturbance independently; yet when analyzed in combination up to 64% of the world’s coral reefs could face unsuitable environmental conditions by one disturbance or another. Under the worst-case scenario, nearly all coral reef ecosystems worldwide (approximately 99%) will permanently face unsuitable conditions by 2055 in at least one of the disturbances analyzed. Prior studies have indicated the projected dire effects of climate change on coral reefs by mid-century; by analyzing a multitude of projected disturbances, our study reveals a much more severe prognosis for the world’s coral reefs as they have significantly less time to adapt while highlighting the urgent need to tackle available solutions to human disturbances.

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Physiologically mediated susceptibilities of coralline algae to ocean change

Coralline algae are important foundation species in coastal ecosystems around the world but are threatened by ocean acidification (OA) and other anthropogenic stressors such as ocean warming (OW) and sedimentation. Physiological responses to ocean change are challenging to predict because the mechanisms that provide tolerance to different stressors are unknown and there is a lack of understanding of responses to multiple drivers. To address these issues, I conducted four experiments examining the physiological responses of multiple temperate coralline algal species to decreasing irradiance, declining pH, OW and marine heatwaves (MHWs), and a combination of OA, OW and reduced irradiance.

Coralline algal calcification generally responded parabolically to irradiance, but photosynthesis responded linearly. My results suggest that light enhanced calcification is the result of increased ion pumping rates to elevate the calcium carbonate saturation state in the calcifying fluid (CF) and a higher daytime pH in the diffusion boundary layer that raises pHCF. My results implied the existence of two calcification strategies in coralline algae that I discuss within the thesis.

Tolerance to OA was coupled to the species’ ability to maintain stable carbonate chemistry at the site of calcification to support calcification as seawater pH declined. Conversely, pronounced changes in internal calcium carbonate saturation state (ΩCF) and skeletal magnesium content were observed in the sensitive taxa. However, ΩCF did generally not decline but increase under OA. There was also slight OA-induced photodamage in sensitive taxa that could explain the inability to support ion-pumping and growth under OA.

Photo-physiology and calcification of coralline algae were generally unaffected by OW and MHWs implying a high thermo-tolerance. However, exposure to future ocean conditions (decreased irradiance+OW x OA) caused the most severe reductions in calcification. Single driver (OA and decreased irradiance+OW) impacts were smaller. Calcification responses were decoupled from ΩCF likely due to the effective control over the internal carbonate chemistry. However, calcification likely declined due to the increased energy expenditure of calcification or when energy supply was reduced. Indeed, variations in energy expenditure and photosynthesis could explain most of the observed calcification responses.

Overall, this thesis has increased our predictive understanding regarding the impact of ocean change on coralline algae by addressing several critical issues by providing a new mechanistic model that more accurately defines the role of irradiance in coralline algal calcification.

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Proton gradients across the coral calcifying cell layer: effects of light, ocean acidification and carbonate chemistry

In corals, pH regulation of the extracellular calcifying medium (ECM) by the calcifying cell layer is a crucial step in the calcification process and is potentially important to influencing how corals respond to ocean acidification. Here, we analyzed the growing edge of the reef coral Stylophora pistillata to make the first characterization of the proton gradient across the coral calcifying epithelium. At seawater pH 8 we found that while the calcifying epithelium elevates pH in the ECM on its apical side above that of seawater, pH on its basal side in the mesoglea is markedly lower, highlighting that the calcifying cells are exposed to a microenvironment distinct from the external environment. Coral symbiont photosynthesis elevates pH in the mesoglea, but experimental ocean acidification and decreased seawater inorganic carbon concentration lead to large declines in mesoglea pH relative to the ECM, which is maintained relatively stable. Together, our results indicate that the coral calcifying epithelium is functionally polarized and that environmental variation impacts pHECM regulation through its effects on the basal side of the calcifying cells.

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Cold-water coral ecosystems under future ocean change: live coral performance vs. framework dissolution and bioerosion

Physiological sensitivity of cold-water corals to ocean change is far less understood than of tropical corals and very little is known about the impacts of ocean acidification and warming on degradative processes of dead coral framework. In a 13-month laboratory experiment, we examined the interactive effects of gradually increasing temperature and pCO2 levels on survival, growth, and respiration of two prominent color morphotypes (colormorphs) of the framework-forming cold-water coral Lophelia pertusa, as well as bioerosion and dissolution of dead framework. Calcification rates tended to increase with warming, showing temperature optima at ~ 14°C (white colormorph) and 10–12°C (orange colormorph) and decreased with increasing pCO2. Net dissolution occurred at aragonite undersaturation (ΩAr < 1) at ~ 1000 μatm pCO2. Under combined warming and acidification, the negative effects of acidification on growth were initially mitigated, but at ~ 1600 μatm dissolution prevailed. Respiration rates increased with warming, more strongly in orange corals, while acidification slightly suppressed respiration. Calcification and respiration rates as well as polyp mortality were consistently higher in orange corals. Mortality increased considerably at 14–15°C in both colormorphs. Bioerosion/dissolution of dead framework was not affected by warming alone but was significantly enhanced by acidification. While live corals may cope with intermediate levels of elevated pCO2 and temperature, long-term impacts beyond levels projected for the end of this century will likely lead to skeletal dissolution and increased mortality. Our findings further suggest that acidification causes accelerated degradation of dead framework even at aragonite saturated conditions, which will eventually compromise the structural integrity of cold-water coral reefs.

Continue reading ‘Cold-water coral ecosystems under future ocean change: live coral performance vs. framework dissolution and bioerosion’

Environmental memory gained from exposure to extreme pCO2 variability promotes coral cellular acid–base homeostasis

Ocean acidification is a growing threat to coral growth and the accretion of coral reef ecosystems. Corals inhabiting environments that already endure extreme diel pCO2 fluctuations, however, may represent acidification-resilient populations capable of persisting on future reefs. Here, we examined the impact of pCO2 variability on the reef-building coral Pocillopora damicornis originating from reefs with contrasting environmental histories (variable reef flat versus stable reef slope) following reciprocal exposure to stable (218 ± 9) or variable (911 ± 31) diel pCO2 amplitude (μtam) in aquaria over eight weeks. Endosymbiont density, photosynthesis and net calcification rates differed between origins but not treatment, whereas primary calcification (extension) was affected by both origin and acclimatization to novel pCO2 conditions. At the cellular level, corals from the variable reef flat exhibited less intracellular pH (pHi) acidosis and faster pHi recovery rates in response to experimental acidification stress (pH 7.40) than corals originating from the stable reef slope, suggesting environmental memory gained from lifelong exposure to pCO2 variability led to an improved ability to regulate acid–base homeostasis. These results highlight the role of cellular processes in maintaining acidification resilience and suggest that prior exposure to pCO2 variability may promote more acidification-resilient coral populations in a changing climate.

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Gregarious larval settlement mediates the responses of new recruits of the reef coral Acropora austera to ocean warming and acidification

Gregarious larval settlement represents an important window for chimera formation in reef corals, yet it remains largely unknown how aggregated settlement and early chimerism could modify the performance and responses of coral recruits under elevated temperature and pCO2. In this study, single and aggregated recruits of the broadcast spawning coral Acropora austera were exposed to contrasts of two temperatures (28 versus 30.5°C) and pCO2 levels (~500 versus 1000 μatm) for two weeks, and algal symbiont infection success, survivorship and growth were assessed. Results showed that symbiont infection success was mainly affected by temperature and recruit type, with reduced symbiont infection at increased temperature and consistently higher infection success in chimeric recruits compared to single recruits. Furthermore, although chimeric recruits with larger areal size had significantly higher survivorship in all treatments, the polyp-specific growth rates were considerably lower in chimeric entities than individual recruits. More importantly, the recruit type significantly influenced the responses of recruit polyp-specific growth rates to elevated temperature, with chimeras exhibiting lowered skeletal lateral growth under elevated temperature. These results demonstrate the benefits and costs associated with gregarious larval settlement for juvenile corals under ocean warming and acidification, and highlight the ecological role of larval settlement behavior in mediating the responses of coral recruits to climate change stressors.

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Exposure to global change and microplastics elicits an immune response in an endangered coral

Global change is increasing seawater temperatures and decreasing oceanic pH, driving declines of coral reefs globally. Coral ecosystems are also impacted by local stressors, including microplastics, which are ubiquitous on reefs. While the independent effects of these global and local stressors are well-documented, their interactions remain less explored. Here, we examine the independent and combined effects of global change (ocean warming and acidification) and microplastics exposures on gene expression (GE) and microbial community composition in the endangered coral Acropora cervicornis. Nine genotypes were fragmented and maintained in one of four experimental treatments: 1) ambient conditions (ambient seawater, no microplastics; AMB); 2) microplastics treatment (ambient seawater, microplastics; MP); 3) global change conditions (warm and acidic conditions, no microplastics; OAW); and 4) multistressor treatment (warm and acidic conditions with microplastics; OAW+MP) for 22 days, after which corals were sampled for genome-wide GE profiling and ITS and 16S metabarcoding. Overall A. cervicornis GE responses to all treatments were subtle; however, corals in the multistressor treatment exhibited the strongest GE responses, and genes associated with innate immunity were overrepresented in this treatment, according to gene ontology enrichment analyses. 16S analyses revealed stable microbiomes dominated by the bacterial associate Aquarickettsia, suggesting that these A. cervicornis fragments exhibited remarkably low variability in bacterial community composition. Future work should focus on functional differences across microbiomes, especially Aquarickettsia and viruses, in these responses. Overall, results suggest that local stressors present a unique challenge to endangered coral species under global change.

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The effects of ocean acidification on the establishment and maintenance of a model cnidarian-dinoflagellate symbiosis

Coral reefs are increasingly under threat from the effects of anthropogenic climate change, including rising sea surface temperatures and more acidified waters. At the foundation of these diverse and valuable ecosystems is the symbiotic relationship between calcifying corals and their endosymbiotic dinoflagellate algae, Symbiodiniaceae – one that is particularly sensitive to environmental stressors. Ocean acidification (OA) results in the lowering of pH and changes to carbonate chemistry and the inorganic carbon species available to marine organisms. Cnidarians such as reef-building corals may be particularly at risk from OA, as changes in pH and carbon availability can alter central physiological processes, including calcification, photosynthesis, acid-base regulation, metabolism and cell-cycle regulation. Yet, while responses to OA have been well researched at the physiological level, results have often been contradictory, and a clear understanding of the nature and extent of impacts on the cnidarian-dinoflagellate symbiosis remains equivocal. This thesis therefore aimed to provide further insights into the effects of OA on the establishment and maintenance of the cnidarian-dinoflagellate symbiosis. My research utilised the well-established model system for this symbiosis: the sea anemone Exaiptasia diaphana (‘Aiptasia’) and its native symbiont Breviolum minutum.

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Global change differentially modulates Caribbean coral physiology

Global change driven by anthropogenic carbon emissions is altering ecosystems at unprecedented rates, especially coral reefs, whose symbiosis with algal symbionts is particularly vulnerable to increasing ocean temperatures and altered carbonate chemistry. Here, we assess the physiological responses of three Caribbean coral (animal host + algal symbiont) species from an inshore and offshore reef environment after exposure to simulated ocean warming (28, 31°C), acidification (300–3290 μatm), and the combination of stressors for 93 days. We used multidimensional analyses to assess how a variety of coral physiological parameters respond to ocean acidification and warming. Our results demonstrate reductions in coral health in Siderastrea siderea and Porites astreoides in response to projected ocean acidification, while future warming elicited severe declines in Pseudodiploria strigosa. Offshore Ssiderea fragments exhibited higher physiological plasticity than inshore counterparts, suggesting that this offshore population was more susceptible to changing conditions. There were no plasticity differences in Pstrigosa and Pastreoides between natal reef environments, however, temperature evoked stronger responses in both species. Interestingly, while each species exhibited unique physiological responses to ocean acidification and warming, when data from all three species are modelled together, convergent stress responses to these conditions are observed, highlighting the overall sensitivities of tropical corals to these stressors. Our results demonstrate that while ocean warming is a severe acute stressor that will have dire consequences for coral reefs globally, chronic exposure to acidification may also impact coral physiology to a greater extent in some species than previously assumed. Further, our study identifies Ssiderea and Pastreoides as potential ‘winners’ on future Caribbean coral reefs due to their resilience under projected global change stressors, while Pstrigosa will likely be a ‘loser’ due to their sensitivity to thermal stress events. Together, these species-specific responses to global change we observe will likely manifest in altered Caribbean reef assemblages in the future.

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Effects of the ocean acidification on the functional structure of coral reef nematodes

A mesocosm experiment was designed to study the effects of acidification on the phytal nematofauna of a coral reef. We hypothesized that phytal nematodes are responsive to different seawater acidification levels and that their assemblage structure and functional indicators (combination of maturity index and trophic diversity index) are useful to evaluate the effects of acidification. Artificial substrate units (ASU) were first colonized in a coral reef zone (Recife de Fora Municipal Marine Park, Porto Seguro, Bahia, Brazil) to obtain standardized assemblage samples. ASUs were transferred to laboratory and exposed to control and three levels of seawater acidification (pH reduced by 0.3, 0.6 and 0.9 units below field levels) and collected after 15 and 30 d. Contrary to our expectations that acidification may change the taxonomic structure of nematodes, while the functional structure may deviate from the expected under high levels of acidification, we found that univariate functional indicators of the community (index of trophic diversity and maturity index) did not show significant differences between the control and experimental treatments throughout the exposure period. It is probably because the frequent exposure of shallow-water nematodes to rather large environmental variations leads the faunal response to acidification to be complex and subtle. On the other hand, the density of the life-history strategy groups 3 and 4 and the structure of nematode assemblages were significantly affected by different pH levels throughout the exposure period. Both history strategy groups include all kinds of feeding groups. These results suggest that the impact of pH changes predicted by the years 2100 and 2300 may be strong enough to provide different traits or life-history strategies of nematodes to take advantage under changing conditions.

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Impacts of warming and acidification on coral calcification linked to photosymbiont loss and deregulation of calcifying fluid pH

Corals are globally important calcifiers that exhibit complex responses to anthropogenic warming and acidification. Although coral calcification is supported by high seawater pH, photosynthesis by the algal symbionts of zooxanthellate corals can be promoted by elevated pCO2. To investigate the mechanisms underlying corals’ complex responses to global change, three species of tropical zooxanthellate corals (Stylophora pistillataPocillopora damicornis, and Seriatopora hystrix) and one species of asymbiotic cold-water coral (Desmophyllum pertusum, syn. Lophelia pertusa) were cultured under a range of ocean acidification and warming scenarios. Under control temperatures, all tropical species exhibited increased calcification rates in response to increasing pCO2. However, the tropical species’ response to increasing pCO2 flattened when they lost symbionts (i.e., bleached) under the high-temperature treatments—suggesting that the loss of symbionts neutralized the benefit of increased pCO2 on calcification rate. Notably, the cold-water species that lacks symbionts exhibited a negative calcification response to increasing pCO2, although this negative response was partially ameliorated under elevated temperature. All four species elevated their calcifying fluid pH relative to seawater pH under all pCO2 treatments, and the magnitude of this offset (Δ[H+]) increased with increasing pCO2. Furthermore, calcifying fluid pH decreased along with symbiont abundance under thermal stress for the one species in which calcifying fluid pH was measured under both temperature treatments. This observation suggests a mechanistic link between photosymbiont loss (‘bleaching’) and impairment of zooxanthellate corals’ ability to elevate calcifying fluid pH in support of calcification under heat stress. This study supports the assertion that thermally induced loss of photosymbionts impairs tropical zooxanthellate corals’ ability to cope with CO2-induced ocean acidification.

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The cold-water coral Solenosmilia variabilis as a paleoceanographic archive for the reconstruction of intermediate water mass temperature variability on the Brazilian continental margin

Recent oceanographic observations have identified significant changes of intermediate water masses characterized by increased temperatures, lowered pH and deoxygenation. In order to improve our understanding as to how these changes may impact deep-sea ecosystems one important strategy is to reconstruct past oceanic conditions. Here we examine the applicability of the scleractinian cold-water coral Solenosmilia variabilis as a marine archive for the reconstructions of past intermediate water mass temperatures by using Lithium (Li)/Magnesium (Mg) ratios. In particular, our study addresses 1) the calibration of Li/Mg ratios against in-situ temperature data, 2) the reconstruction of past intermediate water mass temperatures using scleractinian coral fossil samples from the Brazilian continental margin and 3) the identification of intraspecies variability within the coral microstructure. Results showed that Li/Mg ratios measured in the skeletons of S. variabilis fit into existing Li/Mg-T calibrations of other cold-water scleractinian. Furthermore, the coral microstructure exhibits interspecies variability of Li/Ca and Mg/Ca ratios were also similar to what has been observed in other cold-water scleractinian corals, suggesting a similar biomineralization control on the incorporation of Li and Mg into the skeleton. However, the Li/Mg based temperature reconstruction using fossil samples resulted in unexpectedly high variations >10°C, which might not be solely related to temperature variations of the intermediate water mass over the last 160 ka on the Brazilian continental margin. We speculate that such temperature variability may be caused by vertical movements of the aragonite saturation horizon and the associated seawater pH changes, which in turn influence the incorporation of Li and Mg into the coral skeleton. Based on these results it is recommended that future studies investigating past oceanic conditions need to consider the carbonate system parameters and how they might impact the mechanisms of Li and Mg being incorporated into skeletons of cold-water coral species such as S. variabilis.

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Rates of future climate change in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea: implications for coral reef ecosystems

Rising temperatures and ocean acidification due to anthropogenic climate change pose ominous threats to coral reef ecosystems in the Gulf of Mexico (GoM) and the western Caribbean Sea. Unfortunately, the once structurally complex coral reefs in the GoM and Caribbean have dramatically declined since the 1970s; relatively few coral reefs still exhibit a mean live coral cover of > 10%. Additional work is needed to characterize future climate stressors on corals reefs in the GoM and the Caribbean Sea. Here, we use climate model simulations spanning the period of 2015-2100 to partition and assess the individual impacts of climate stressors on corals in the GoM and the western Caribbean Sea. We use a top-down modeling framework to diagnose future projected changes in thermal stress and ocean acidification and discuss its implications for coral reef ecosystems. We find that ocean temperatures increase by 2-3°C over the 21st century, and surpass reported regional bleaching thresholds by mid-century. Whereas ocean acidification occurs, the rate and magnitude of temperature changes outpace and outweigh the impacts of changes in aragonite saturation state. A framework for quantifying and communicating future risks in the GoM and Caribbean using reef risk projection maps is discussed. Without substantial mitigation efforts, the combined impact of increasing ocean temperatures and acidification are likely to stress most existing corals in the GoM and the Caribbean, with widespread economic and ecological consequences.

Plain Language Summary

Coral reefs are among the most diverse and valuable ecosystems on Earth, and the coral reefs in the Gulf of Mexico (GoM) and the Caribbean Sea are no exception. In this region, coral reefs support vibrant recreation, tourism, and fishing industries. However, climate change, including rising temperatures and ocean acidification, threaten the future health of corals. To asses climate-change related risks to coral reefs in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea, this study uses climate model simulations spanning 2015-2100 to understand future changes in temperature and ocean acidification. Although many regions of the Gulf of Mexico and the western Caribbean Sea will cross the critical coral reef bleaching thresholds by mid-century, we hope that this work will inform and streamline mitigation efforts to protect vulnerable coral reef ecosystems and the valuable benefits and resources they provide to local communities.

Key Points

  • Sea-surface temperatures (SSTs) surpass critical coral bleaching thresholds by mid-century in the Gulf of Mexico (GoM) and Caribbean Sea
  • The rate and magnitude of SST changes in the GoM/Caribbean more strongly influence future coral reef vulnerability than ocean acidification
  • Future climate projections with high greenhouse gas forcing underscore the need for mitigation to ensure long-term coral reef preservation
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Stability of coral reef islands and associated legal maritime zones in a changing ocean

Coral reef islands can support large legal maritime zones (i.e., ocean spaces where States have rights and responsibilities) and are of international and geopolitical importance. This review focuses on low-lying coral reef islands supplied with sediments derived from skeletons and shells of calcifying organisms. For coral islands, the outer ‘low-water line’ of the reef can be used as the legal ‘baseline’ to establish maritime zones. Coral islands and the reefs that support them are experiencing the effects of rising and warming seas, increased storminess and ocean acidification. Coral reefs, their islands and associated maritime zones support millions of people, including those in Small Island Developing States (SIDS). SIDS communities are arguably the least responsible for climate change but are at the forefront of its impacts so ensuring their continued wellbeing is a global responsibility. Securing the future of coral reefs and islands is dependent on reducing global climate threats and emissions, improving local management, and investing in restoration and adaption research. It is uncertain if coral islands will persist into the future, and on what timelines. This raises questions such as, where coral islands support maritime zones, what are the legal implications of island instability or loss? This review focuses on the bio-physical interactions of coral islands and associated reefs in the face of changing climates, and implications for legal maritime zones and SIDS.

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