Posts Tagged 'corals'

Multiscale mechanical consequences of ocean acidification for cold-water corals

Ocean acidification is a threat to deep-sea corals and could lead to dramatic and rapid loss of the reef framework habitat they build. Weakening of structurally critical parts of the coral reef framework can lead to physical habitat collapse on an ecosystem scale, reducing the potential for biodiversity support. The mechanism underpinning crumbling and collapse of corals can be described via a combination of laboratory-scale experiments and mathematical and computational models. We synthesise data from electron back-scatter diffraction, micro-computed tomography, and micromechanical experiments, supplemented by molecular dynamics and continuum micromechanics simulations to predict failure of coral structures under increasing porosity and dissolution. Results reveal remarkable mechanical properties of the building material of cold-water coral skeletons of 462 MPa compressive strength and 45–67 GPa stiffness. This is 10 times stronger than concrete, twice as strong as ultrahigh performance fibre reinforced concrete, or nacre. Contrary to what would be expected, CWCs retain the strength of their skeletal building material despite a loss of its stiffness even when synthesised under future oceanic conditions. As this is on the material length-scale, it is independent of increasing porosity from exposure to corrosive water or bioerosion. Our models then illustrate how small increases in porosity lead to significantly increased risk of crumbling coral habitat. This new understanding, combined with projections of how seawater chemistry will change over the coming decades, will help support future conservation and management efforts of these vulnerable marine ecosystems by identifying which ecosystems are at risk and when they will be at risk, allowing assessment of the impact upon associated biodiversity.

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Effects of seawater pCO2 on the skeletal morphology of massive Porites spp. corals

Ocean acidification alters the dissolved inorganic carbon chemistry of seawater and can reduce the calcification rates of tropical corals. Here we explore the effect of altering seawater pCO2 on the skeletal morphology of 4 genotypes of massive Porites spp. which display widely different calcification rates. Increasing seawater pCO2 causes significant changes in in the skeletal morphology of all Porites spp. studied regardless of whether or not calcification was significantly affected by seawater pCO2. Both the median calyx size and the proportion of skeletal surface occupied by the calices decreased significantly at 750 µatm compared to 400 µatm indicating that polyp size shrinks in this genus in response to ocean acidification. The coenosteum, connecting calices, expands to occupy a larger proportion of the coral surface to compensate for this decrease in calyx area. At high seawater pCO2 the spines deposited at the skeletal surface became more numerous and the trabeculae (vertical skeletal pillars) became significantly thinner in 2 of the 4 genotypes. The effect of high seawater pCO2 is most pronounced in the fastest growing coral and the regular placement of trabeculae and synapticulae is disturbed in this genotype resulting in a skeleton that is more randomly organised. The study demonstrates that ocean acidification decreases the polyp size and fundamentally alters the architecture of the skeleton in this major reef building species from the Indo-Pacific Ocean.

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Coral symbiosis carbon flow: a numerical model study spanning cellular to ecosystem levels

Corals rely on a symbiotic relationship with algae (zooxanthellae), which reside in the host tissue and play a critical role for host metabolism through photosynthesis, respiration, carbon translocation, and calcification. These processes affect coral reefs on different scales from cellular to organismal and ecosystem levels. A process-based dynamic model was developed and coupled with a one-dimensional (1-D) biogeochemical model to describe coral photosynthesis, respiration, and carbon translocation at the cellular level, calcification and ion transport in different coral polyp components (i.e., coelenteron, calcifying fluid) at the organismal level; and the exchange of material between corals and the ambient seawater at the ecosystem level. Major processes controlling the carbon budget in internal symbiosis were identified. For the symbiont, photosynthesis is the primary carbon source and translocation to the host is the major sink. For the host, most of the carbon translocated from the symbiont is lost through mucus leakage. In the host dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) pool, most of the carbon is obtained from the surrounding seawater through uptake; photosynthesis and calcification are the major sinks of DIC. Based on a series of scenario studies, the model produced increase of photosynthesis rate with decline of calcification rate under higher air pCO2 and associated carbonate chemistry variabilities in different polyp components. The model results support the hypothesis that elevated pCO2 stimulates photosynthesis, resulting in a reduced supply of DIC to calcification. Such coupled models allow the exploration of process-based mechanisms, complementing laboratory and field studies.

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Effect of temperature and pH on the Millepora alcicornis and Mussismilia harttii corals in light of a spectral reflectance response

The increase in carbon dioxide (CO2) atmospheric levels contributes to the rise in temperature and ocean acidification; consequently, it directly impacts coral reefs. The increase in seawater temperature is the primary factor that causes the collapse of coral-algal symbiosis, which can be followed by coral death and, generally, ocean acidification impairs biogenic calcification and promotes dissolution of carbonate substrata. These harmful effects on corals associated with the continuous increase in CO2 atmospheric levels raise widespread concerns about the coral reef decline, intensifying the efforts to understand/monitor their effects on these organisms. The objective of this study was to evaluate the physiological effect of temperature increase, water acidification (i.e. decrease in pH), and their effects combined (temperature increase with water acidification), through the reflectance analyses and maximum photosynthetic capacity of zooxanthellae (Fv/Fm) in two coral species: Millepora alcicornis and Mussismilia harttii. Fragments of four large colonies of each specie were collected, fragmented, and submitted to four different treatments for 15 days: (i) control treatment (under identical temperature and pH conditions observed in the sampling seawater site), (ii) temperature treatment (with an increase temperature of around ≅2ºC); (iii) water acidification treatment (with a decrease of nearly 0.3 in pH); and (iv) a treatment of combined effects from water temperature rising and acidification. Spectral reflectance and Fv/Fm were measured from samples of these species in a marine mesocosm. Data of reflectance, first and second-order derivative, area under the curve, full width at half maximum (FWHM), depth values and the Fv/Fm were used to classify the coral species and treatments through the linear discriminant analysis (LDA). Coral samples were exposed to the increased temperature bleached, whilst decreased pH caused a slight reduction in reflectance albedo with minimal effects on Fv/Fm. The combined factors (treatment iv) triggered a bleaching response, presenting spectral reflectance and colouring patterns similar to those observed in bleached corals, especially for M. alcicornis. The two-way ANOVA indicated statistically meaningful spectral differences between treatments for the second-order derivatives at 634 nm and for Fv/Fm values. However, there was no statistically meaningful interaction effect due to the treatment type and coral species response for the second-order derivative at 670 nm and to the Fv/Fm values. LDA classified the corals’ species and the corals in different treatment, using their spectral responses and Fv/Fm results, with high accuracy (96.7% and 73.3%, respectively), reinforcing its application for coral physiology evaluation and species classification. The control and combined groups achieved the best classification scores, with only one misclassification.

Continue reading ‘Effect of temperature and pH on the Millepora alcicornis and Mussismilia harttii corals in light of a spectral reflectance response’

Changes of physical and mechanical properties of coral reef limestone under CO2–seawater–rock interaction

Large amounts of anthropogenic CO2 in the atmosphere are taken up when the ocean alters the seawater carbonate system, which could have a significant impact on carbonate-rich sediments. Coral reef limestone is a special biogenic carbonate, which is mainly composed of calcium carbonate. When carbonate-rich rocks are brought into contact with a CO2 weak acid solution, they will be dissolved, which may affect the physical and mechanical properties of the rock. In this paper, the physical and chemical interactions between CO2, seawater and the framework structure reef limestone were studied based on an experiment conducted in a hydrothermal reactor. The solution was analyzed for dissolved Ca2+ concentration during the reaction, and the rock mass, effective volume (except for the volume of open pores), permeability, images from electron microscopy and X-ray microtomography were contrasted before and after immersion. The uniaxial compressive and tensile strength tests were conducted, respectively, to clarify the mechanical response of the rock after the reaction. The results indicate that dissolution occurred during the reaction, and the calcium ions of the solution were increased. The physical properties of the rock were changed, and the permeability significantly increased. Because the rocks were soaked for only 15 days, the total cumulative amount of calcium carbonate dissolved was less, and the mechanical properties were not affected.

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Characterization factors for ocean acidification impacts on marine biodiversity

Rising greenhouse gas emissions do not only accelerate climate change but also make the ocean more acidic. This applies above all to carbon dioxide (CO2). Lower ocean pH levels threaten marine ecosystems and especially strongly calcifying species. Impacts on marine ecosystem quality are currently underrepresented in life cycle assessments (LCAs). Here, we developed characterization factors for the life cycle impact assessment of ocean acidification. Our main contribution was developing new species sensitivity distributions (SSDs), from which we derived effect factors for different impact perspectives: Marginal, linear, and average changes for both the past and four future emission scenarios (RCP2.6, RCP4.5, RCP6.0, and RCP8.5). Based on a dataset that covered five taxa (corals, crustaceans, echinoderms, fishes, molluscs) and three climate zones, we showed significantly higher sensitivities for strongly calcifying than slightly calcifying taxa and in polar regions compared to tropical and temperate regions. Experimental duration, leading to acute, subchronic, or chronic toxicological endpoints, did not significantly affect the species sensitivities. With ocean acidification impacts still accelerating, the future-oriented average effects are higher than the marginal or past-oriented average effects. While our characterization factors are ready for use in LCA, we also point to opportunities for improvement in future developments.

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Synergistic effects of ocean acidification and warming on coral host, Symbiodinium and nutrients exchange-based symbioses indicated by metatranscriptome

Global climate changes e.g. ocean acidification and warming caused by anthropogenic emission of CO2 are the greatest global threat to coral reef ecosystems. However, compared with the knowledge of Symbiodinium, little is known about the synergistic effects of combined ocean acidification and warming on the coral host and coral-Symbiodinium symbioses. In this study, metatranscriptomic analysis was performed to reveal the response of coral host and its symbiotic Symbiodinium to acidification (A), warming (H) and combined acidification and acidification (AH), using branching A. valida and massive G. fascicularis as models in a laboratory simulation system. RNA-Seq-based differently expressed genes (DEGs), together with coral’s morphological change, suggested the synergistic effects of AH on the coral host and coral-Symbiodinium symbioses, e.g. photosynthesis inhibition and negative effect on nutrients exchange between the host and its Symbiodinium. Particularly, AH showed a far greater impact on coral host than on Symbiodinium. These findings provide novel insights into the molecular mechanism of coral holobionts’ response to future extreme ocean acidification and warming, meanwhile highlight the molecular evidence for the different tolerance of branching and massive corals to environmental changes.

Continue reading ‘Synergistic effects of ocean acidification and warming on coral host, Symbiodinium and nutrients exchange-based symbioses indicated by metatranscriptome’

Coral calcification mechanisms in a warming ocean and the interactive effects of temperature and light

Ocean warming is transforming the world’s coral reefs, which are governed by the growth of marine calcifiers, most notably branching corals. Critical to skeletal growth is the corals’ regulation of their internal chemistry to promote calcification. Here we investigate the effects of temperature and light on the calcifying fluid chemistry (using boron isotope systematics), calcification rates, metabolic rates and photo-physiology of Acropora nasuta during two mesocosm experiments simulating seasonal and static temperature and light regimes. Under the seasonal regime, coral calcification rates, calcifying fluid carbonate chemistry, photo-physiology and metabolic productivity responded to both changes in temperature and light. However, under static conditions the artificially prolonged exposure to summer temperatures resulted in heat stress and a heightened sensitivity to light. Our results indicate that temperature and light effects on coral physiology and calcification mechanisms are interactive and context-specific, making it essential to conduct realistic multi-variate dynamic experiments in order to predict how coral calcification will respond to ocean warming.

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Two decades of seawater acidification experiments on tropical scleractinian corals: overview, meta-analysis and perspectives


  • Seawater acidification experiments on tropical scleractinians are relatively recent.
  • Seawater acidification mainly affects calcification and reproduction capacities.
  • Knowledge is biased with a majority of work on adult and shallow-water corals.
  • Geographical bias: acidification experiments performed in only 18% of coral ecoregions.
  • We recommend a list of actions and priorities for future research in this field.


Ocean acidification has emerged as a major concern in the last fifteen years and studies on the impacts of seawater acidification on marine organisms have multiplied accordingly. This review aimed at synthesizing the literature on the effects of seawater acidification on tropical scleractinians under laboratory-controlled conditions. We identified 141 articles (published between 1999 and 2021) and separated endpoints into 22 biological categories to identify global trends for mitigation and gaps in knowledge and research priorities for future investigators. The relative number of affected endpoints increased with pH intensity (particularly for endpoints associated to calcification and reproduction). When exposed to pH 7.6–7.8 (compared to higher pH), 49% of endpoints were affected. The diversity in experimental designs prevented deciphering the modulating role of coral life stages, genera or duration of exposure. Finally, important bias in research efforts included most experiments on adult corals (68.5%), in 27 out of 150 (18%) coral ecoregions and exclusively from shallow-waters.

Continue reading ‘Two decades of seawater acidification experiments on tropical scleractinian corals: overview, meta-analysis and perspectives’

High CO2 inhibits substratum exploration and settlement of coral larvae

Biological and physical factors affecting coral recruitment are critical in influencing the recovery of coral communities after disturbance. While ocean acidification (OA) can reduce coral settlement and the early growth of coral recruits, the impact of OA on coral larval swimming behavior is unknown. Here, we investigated the effects of elevated CO2 on the swimming behavior and settlement of coral larvae of 2 common Acropora species. Larvae were exposed to 4 CO2 partial pressure (pCO2) conditions consistent with the current Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change predictions for the next few centuries (pCO2: 393, 853, 1485, 3022 µatm; pH: 8.1, 7.8, 7.6, 7.3) in 2 laboratory experiments. We found that bottom exploration, expressed as the proportion of A. cytherea and A. pulchra larvae present in the bottom part of experimental cylinders, decreased by 92 and 98%, respectively, from the ambient to highest CO2 treatment. When offered the choice to settle on the crustose coralline algae Titanoderma prototypum, a well-known positive settlement cue, the percentage of larvae that settled on the crustose coralline algae fragments declined rapidly as pCO2 increased, with no larvae settling in the highest CO2 treatment. These results suggest that OA may negatively affect coral recruitment via direct effects on larval swimming behavior, with larvae avoiding benthic probing in response to high CO2.

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The combined effects of ocean acidification and copper on the physiological responses of the tropical coral Stylophora pistillata


  • Exposure to increased Cu concentrations suppressed coral calcification.
  • Calcification was suppressed further when exposed to Cu under high pCO2.
  • Respiration decreased after two weeks when stressors were applied in combination.


A decrease in ocean pH of 0.3 units will likely double the proportion of dissolved copper (Cu) present as the free metal ion, Cu2+, the most bioavailable form of Cu, and one of the most common marine pollutants. We assess the impact of ocean acidification and Cu, separately and in combination, on calcification, photosynthesis and respiration of sub-colonies of a single tropical Stylophora pistillata colony. After 15 days of treatment, total calcification rates were significantly decreased in corals exposed to high seawater pCO2 (∼1000-μatm, 2100 scenario) and at both ambient (1.6–1.9 nmols) and high (2.5–3.6 nmols) dissolved Cu concentrations compared to controls. The effect was increased when both stressors were combined. Coral respiration rates were significantly reduced by the combined stressors after 2 weeks of exposure, indicating the importance of experiment duration. It is therefore likely rising atmospheric CO2 will exacerbate the negative effects of Cu pollution to S. pistillata.

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Comparative transcriptomics reveals altered species interaction between the bioeroding sponge Cliona varians and the coral Porites furcata under ocean acidification

Bioeroding sponges interact and compete with corals on tropical reefs. Experimental studies have shown global change alters this biotic interaction, often in favor of the sponge. Ocean acidification in particular increases sponge bioerosion and reduces coral calcification, yet little is known about the molecular basis of these changes. We used RNA-Seq data to understand how acidification impacts the interaction between the bioeroding sponge, Cliona varians, and the coral, Porites furcata, at the transcriptomic level. Replicate sponge and coral genets were exposed to ambient (8.1 pH) and acidified (7.6 pH) conditions in isolation and in treatments where they were joined for 48hrs. The coral had a small gene expression response (tens of transcripts) to the sponge, suggesting it does little at the transcriptomic level to deter sponge overgrowth. By contrast, the sponge differentially expressed 7320 transcripts in response to the coral under ambient conditions and 3707 transcripts in response to acidification. Overlap in the responses to acidification and the coral, 2500 transcripts expressed under both treatments, suggests a similar physiological response to both cues. The sponge expressed 50x fewer transcripts in response to the coral under acidification, suggesting energetic costs of bioerosion, and other cellular processes, are lower for sponges under acidification. Our results suggest how acidification drives ecosystem-level changes in the accretion/bioerosion balance on coral reefs. This shift is not only the result of changes to the thermodynamic balance of these chemical reactions but also the result of active physiological responses of organisms to each other and their abiotic environment.

Continue reading ‘Comparative transcriptomics reveals altered species interaction between the bioeroding sponge Cliona varians and the coral Porites furcata under ocean acidification’

Artificial intelligence as a tool to study the 3D skeletal architecture in newly settled coral recruits: insights into the effects of ocean acidification on coral biomineralization

Understanding the formation of the coral skeleton has been a common subject uniting various marine and materials study fields. Two main regions dominate coral skeleton growth: Rapid Accretion Deposits (RADs) and Thickening Deposits (TDs). These have been extensively characterized at the 2D level, but their 3D characteristics are still poorly described. Here, we present an innovative approach to combine synchrotron phase contrast-enhanced microCT (PCE-CT) with artificial intelligence (AI) to explore the 3D architecture of RADs and TDs within the coral skeleton. As a reference study system, we used recruits of the stony coral Stylophora pistillata from the Red Sea, grown under both natural and simulated ocean acidification conditions. We thus studied the recruit’s skeleton under both regular and morphologically-altered acidic conditions. By imaging the corals with PCE-CT, we revealed the interwoven morphologies of RADs and TDs. Deep-learning neural networks were invoked to explore AI segmentation of these regions, to overcome limitations of common segmentation techniques. This analysis yielded highly-detailed 3D information about the RAD’s and TD’s architecture. Our results demonstrate how AI can be used as a powerful tool to obtain 3D data essential for studying coral biomineralization and for exploring the effects of environmental change on coral growth.

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Interactive effects of acidification and copper exposure on the reproduction and metabolism of coral endosymbiont Cladocopium goreaui


  • Acidification raised growth by Fv/Fm, nutrient uptake and biomolecular biosynthesis.
  • Copper pollution alone decreased algal reproduction through toxic effects.
  • Combined stressor repressed reproduction through downregulated aromatic amino acid.
  • Abstract

Ocean acidification resulting from increased CO2 and pollution from land-sourced toxicants such as copper have been linked to coral cover declines in coastal reef ecosystems. The impacts of ocean acidification and copper pollution on corals have been intensively investigated, whereas research on their effects on coral endosymbiont Symbiodiniaceae is limited. In this study, reproduction, photosynthetic parameters, nutrient accumulation and metabolome of Symbiodiniaceae Cladocopium goreaui were investigated after a weeklong treatment with acute CO2-induced acidification and copper ion. Acidification promoted algal reproduction through increased nutrients assimilation, upregulated citrate cycle and biomolecular biosynthesis pathway, while copper exposure repressed algal reproduction through toxic effects. The combined acidification and copper exposure caused the same decline in algal reproduction as copper exposure alone, but the upregulation of pentose phosphate pathway and the downregulation of aromatic amino acid biosynthesis. These results suggest that copper pollution could override the positive effects of acidification on the symbiodiniacean reproduction.

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Physiological acclimatization in Hawaiian corals following a 22-month shift in baseline seawater temperature and pH

Climate change poses a major threat to coral reefs. We conducted an outdoor 22-month experiment to investigate if coral could not just survive, but also physiologically cope, with chronic ocean warming and acidification conditions expected later this century under the Paris Climate Agreement. We recorded survivorship and measured eleven phenotypic traits to evaluate the holobiont responses of Hawaiian coral: color, Symbiodiniaceae density, calcification, photosynthesis, respiration, total organic carbon flux, carbon budget, biomass, lipids, protein, and maximum Artemia capture rate. Survivorship was lowest in Montipora capitata and only some survivors were able to meet metabolic demand and physiologically cope with future ocean conditions. Most M. capitata survivors bleached through loss of chlorophyll pigments and simultaneously experienced increased respiration rates and negative carbon budgets due to a 236% increase in total organic carbon losses under combined future ocean conditions. Porites compressa and Porites lobata had the highest survivorship and coped well under future ocean conditions with positive calcification and increased biomass, maintenance of lipids, and the capacity to exceed their metabolic demand through photosynthesis and heterotrophy. Thus, our findings show that significant biological diversity within resilient corals like Porites, and some genotypes of sensitive species, will persist this century provided atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are controlled. Since Porites corals are ubiquitous throughout the world’s oceans and often major reef builders, the persistence of this resilient genus provides hope for future reef ecosystem function globally.

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Global predictions of coral reef dissolution in the Anthropocene

Arising from K. Davis et al. Communications Earth & Environment (2021)

Coral reef frameworks are constructed by calcifying organisms and are highly sensitive to ocean acidification. Shifting baselines in seawater chemistry have already had measurable impacts on net ecosystem calcification (Gnet) on coral reefs1, and projections of ocean acidification portray a poor future for reefs in the Anthropocene2. While experimental approaches have revealed much about this trajectory, we lack a clear understanding of: i) the drivers and predictors of net calcification at ecosystem scales, and ii) accurate predictions of when ecosystem calcification will reach net dissolution in the 21st century.

Through a meta-analysis approach, the recent study in Communications Earth & Environment by Davis et al.3 provides important insights into ecosystem-scale calcification on coral reefs. Based upon 53 publications spanning 36 coral reef sites around the world, the study provides a more nuanced understanding of the global drivers of Gnet. Cover of reef calcifiers (predominantly corals) and depth are key predictors of global ecosystem calcification, with evidence of seasonality and wave action as additional factors influencing Gnet3. The meta-analysis outlines important knowledge gaps and research needs and highlights the limited data available for assessing changes in ecosystem calcification at the same reefs through time.

Under future projections, ocean acidification is expected to shift coral reefs from a state of net calcification to net dissolution through reductions in pH and aragonite saturation states (Ωa)4,5. The exact timing of this is unclear, in part due to methodological differences, but estimates of when coral reefs will cross a tipping point to net dissolution vary substantially from 2031 to 20826, 20707, and 2060 to 20804. Through the compilation of Gnet from a subset of sites with repeated measurements (6 of the 36 available coral reefs; n = 29 of the available 116 surveys), Davis et al.3 extrapolate linear predictions of Gnet decline (1975–2017) to conclude that average global net-zero calcification will occur around the year 2054, based on a decline in Gnet of 4.3 ± 1.9% yr−1.

Extrapolating estimates of Gnet into the 21st century based upon the available historical data is complex. We identify four issues with this approach:

Continue reading ‘Global predictions of coral reef dissolution in the Anthropocene’

Low pH and low coral cover at a shallow hydrothermal vent site in Batangas, Philippines

The coral community and pH conditions were characterized at a shallow hydrothermal vent in Batangas, Philippines. Hard coral cover was 14.8 ± 12.5% (mean ± standard deviation) and made up of more than 26 hard coral TAUs (taxonomic amalgamation units). Seawater pH was highly dynamic, especially near the most active vent plume, ranging from a low of 6.12 to a high of 8.09 over the 10 m x 10 m site. Fourteen (14) coral TAUs were found within 1 m of this vent plume, suggesting they can persist under variable pH conditions. These results contribute towards understanding the response of coral communities under future climate change scenarios.

Continue reading ‘Low pH and low coral cover at a shallow hydrothermal vent site in Batangas, Philippines’

Transcriptional response of the azooxanthellate octocoral Scleronephthya gracillimum to seawater acidification and thermal stress

The stress responses to increased seawater temperature and marine acidification were investigated using a microarray to reveal transcriptional changes in S. gracillimum. For the study, corals were exposed to different stress experiments; high temperature only (26 °C, 28 °C and 30 °C), low-pH only (pH 7.5, pH 7.0 and pH 6.5) and dual stress experiments (28 °C + pH 7.8, 28 °C + pH 7.5 and 28 °C + pH 7.0), mortality and morphological changes in 24 h exposure experiments were investigated. The survival rates of each experimental group were observed. The gene expression changes in single and dual stress exposed coals were measured and the differentially expressed genes were classified with gene ontology analysis. The top three enriched gene ontology terms of DEGs in response to dual stress were metal ion binding (23.4%), extracellular region (17.2%), and calcium ion binding (12.8%). The gene showing the greatest increase in expression as a response to the dual stress was hemagglutinin/amebocyte aggregation factor, followed by interferon-inducible GTPase 5 and the gene showing the greatest decrease as a response to the dual stress was Fas-associating death domain-containing protein, followed by oxidase 2. These results represented the transcriptomic study focused on the stress responses of the temperate asymbiotic soft coral exposed to single and dual stresses. The combined effect of thermal and acidification stress on corals triggered the negative regulation of ion binding and extracellular matrix coding genes and these genes might serve as a basis for research into coral-specific adaptations to stress responses and global climate change.

Continue reading ‘Transcriptional response of the azooxanthellate octocoral Scleronephthya gracillimum to seawater acidification and thermal stress’

Marginal reefs under stress: physiological limits render Galápagos corals susceptible to ocean acidification and thermal stress


Ocean acidification (OA) and thermal stress may undermine corals’ ability to calcify and support diverse reef communities, particularly in marginal environments. Coral calcification depends on aragonite supersaturation (Ω » 1) of the calcifying fluid (cf) from which the skeleton precipitates. Corals actively upregulate pHcf relative to seawater to buffer against changes in temperature and dissolved inorganic carbon, which together control Ωcf. Here we assess the buffering capacity of modern and fossil corals from the Galápagos Islands that have been exposed to sub-optimal conditions, extreme thermal stress, and OA. We demonstrate a significant decline in pHcf and Ωcf since the pre-industrial era, trends which are exacerbated during extreme warm years. These results suggest that there are likely physiological limits to corals’ pH buffering capacity, and that these constraints render marginal reefs particularly susceptible to OA.

Plain Language Summary

Reef-building corals regulate their internal environment to permit rapid growth, which is critical for creating the structure and function of coral reefs. However, we demonstrate that there are finite limits to the ability of corals to regulate their internal chemistry to optimize growth. This limitation will leave corals susceptible to ocean warming and acidification, particularly in sub-optimal environments. Galápagos corals already display signs of stress and an inability to maintain an optimal internal growth environment from the eighteenth century to today.

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Impacts of ocean warming and acidification on calcifying coral reef taxa: mechanisms responsible and adaptive capacity

Ocean warming (OW) and acidification (OA) are two of the greatest global threats to the persistence of coral reefs. Calcifying reef taxa such as corals and coralline algae provide the essential substrate and habitat in tropical reefs but are at particular risk due to their susceptibility to both OW and OA. OW poses the greater threat to future reef growth and function, via its capacity to destabilise the productivity of both taxa, and to cause mass bleaching events and mortality of corals. Marine heatwaves are projected to increase in frequency, intensity, and duration over the coming decades, raising the question of whether coral reefs will be able to persist as functioning ecosystems and in what form. OA should not be overlooked, as its negative impacts on the calcification of reef-building corals and coralline algae will have consequences for global reef accretion. Given that OA can have negative impacts on the reproduction and early life stages of both coralline algae and corals, the interdependence of these taxa may result in negative feedbacks for reef replenishment. However, there is little evidence that OA causes coral bleaching or exacerbates the effects of OW on coral bleaching. Instead, there is some evidence that OA alters the photo-physiology of both taxa. Tropical coralline algal possess shorter generation times than corals, which could enable more rapid evolutionary responses. Future reefs will be dominated by taxa with shorter generation times and high plasticity, or those individuals inherently resistant and resilient to both marine heatwaves and OA.

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