Posts Tagged 'corals'

A simple role of coral-algal symbiosis in coral calcification based on multiple geochemical tracers

Light-enhanced calcification of reef-building corals, which eventually create vast coral reefs, is well known and based on coral-algal symbiosis. Several controversial hypotheses have been proposed as possible mechanisms for connecting symbiont photosynthesis and coral calcification, including pH rise in the internal pool, role of organic matrix secretion, and enzyme activities. Here, based on the skeletal chemical and isotopic compositions of symbiotic and asymbiotic primary polyps of Acropora digitifera corals, we show a simple pH increase in the calcification medium as the predominant contribution of symbionts to calcification of host corals. We used the symbiotic and asymbiotic primary polyps reared for 10 days at four temperatures (27, 29, 31, and 33 °C), five salinities (34, 32, 30, 28, and 26), and four pCO2 levels (< 300, 400, 800, and 1000 µatm). As a result of analyzing multiple geochemical tracers (U/Ca, Mg/Ca, Sr/Ca, δ18O, δ 13C, and δ 44Ca), a clear and systematic decrease in skeletal U/Ca ratio (used as a proxy for calcification fluid pH) was observed, indicating a higher pH of the fluid in symbiotic compared to asymbiotic polyps. In contrast, Mg/Ca ratios (used as a tentative proxy for organic matrix secretion) and δ 44Ca (used as an indicator of Ca2+ pathway to the fluid) did not differ between symbiotic and asymbiotic polyps. This suggests that organic matrix secretion related to coral calcification is controlled mainly by the coral host itself, and a transmembrane transport of Ca2+ does not vary according to symbiosis relationship. Skeletal δ 18O values of the both symbiotic and asymbiotic polyps showed offsets between them with identical temperature dependence for the both polyps. Based on a newly proposed model, behavior of δ 18O in the present study seems to reflect the rate of CO2 hydration in the calcifying fluid. Since CO2 hydration is promoted by enzyme carbonic anhydrase, the offset of δ 18O values between symbiotic and asymbiotic polyp is attributed to the differences of enzyme activity, although the enzyme is functional even in the asymbiotic polyp. Symbiotic δ 13C values in the temperature and salinity experiments were higher compared to those in the asymbiotic polyps due to photosynthesis, although photosynthetic δ 13C signals in the pCO2 experiment were masked by the dominant δ 13C gradient in dissolved inorganic carbon in seawater caused by 13C-depletd CO2 gas addition in the higher pCO2 treatments. Sr/Ca ratios showed a negligible relationship according to variation of temperature, salinity, and pCO2, although it might be attributed to relatively large deviations of replicates of Sr/Ca ratios in the present study. Overall, only the U/Ca ratio showed a significant difference between symbiotic and asymbiotic polyps throughout all experiments, indicating that the critical effect on coral calcification caused by symbiotic algae is the increase of pH of the calcifying fluid by photosynthesis.

Continue reading ‘A simple role of coral-algal symbiosis in coral calcification based on multiple geochemical tracers’

Coral reef carbonate chemistry variability at different functional scales

There is a growing recognition for the need to understand how seawater carbonate chemistry over coral reef environments will change in a high-CO2 world to better assess the impacts of ocean acidification on these valuable ecosystems. Coral reefs modify overlying water column chemistry through biogeochemical processes such as net community organic carbon production (NCP) and calcification (NCC). However, the relative importance and influence of these processes on seawater carbonate chemistry vary across multiple functional scales (defined here as space, time, and benthic community composition), and have not been fully constrained. Here, we use Bermuda as a case study to assess (1) spatiotemporal variability in physical and chemical parameters along a depth gradient at a rim reef location, (2) the spatial variability of total alkalinity (TA) and dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) over distinct benthic habitats to infer NCC:NCP ratios [< several km2; rim reef vs. seagrass and calcium carbonate (CaCO3) sediments] on diel timescales, and (3) compare how TA-DIC relationships and NCC:NCP vary as we expand functional scales from local habitats to the entire reef platform (10’s of km2) on seasonal to interannual timescales. Our results demonstrate that TA-DIC relationships were strongly driven by local benthic metabolism and community composition over diel cycles. However, as the spatial scale expanded to the reef platform, the TA-DIC relationship reflected processes that were integrated over larger spatiotemporal scales, with effects of NCC becoming increasingly more important over NCP. This study demonstrates the importance of considering drivers across multiple functional scales to constrain carbonate chemistry variability over coral reefs.

Continue reading ‘Coral reef carbonate chemistry variability at different functional scales’

The origin and role of organic matrix in coral calcification: insights from comparing coral skeleton and abiogenic aragonite

Understanding the mechanisms of coral calcification is critical for accurately projecting coral reef futures under ocean acidification and warming. Recent suggestions that calcification is primarily controlled by organic molecules and the biological activity of the coral polyp imply that ocean acidification may not affect skeletal accretion. The basis for these suggestions relies heavily on correlating the presence of organic matter with the orientation and disorder of aragonite crystals in the skeleton, carrying the assumption that organic matter observed in the skeleton was produced by the polyp to control calcification. Here we use Raman spectroscopy to test whether there are differences in organic matter content between coral skeleton and abiogenic aragonites precipitated from seawater, both before and after thermal annealing (heating). We measured the background fluxorescence and intensity of C-H bonding signals in the Raman spectra, which are commonly attributed to coral polyp-derived skeletal organic matrix (SOM) and have been used to map its distribution. Surprisingly, we found no differences in either fluorescence or C-H bonding between abiogenic aragonite and coral skeleton. Annealing reduced the molecular disorder in coral skeleton, potentially due to removal of organic matter, but the same effect was also observed in the abiogenic aragonites. The presence of organic molecules in the abiogenic aragonites is further supported by measurements of N content and δ15N. Together, our data suggest that some of what has been interpreted in previous studies as polyp-derived SOM may actually be seawater-sourced organic matter or some other signal not unique to biogenic aragonite. Finally, we create a high-resolution Raman map of a Pocillopora skeleton to demonstrate how patterns of fluorescence and elevated calcifying fluid aragonite saturation state (ΩAr) along centers of calcification are consistent with both biological and physico-chemical controls. Our aim is to advance discussion on biological mediation of calcification and the implications for coral resilience in a high-CO2 world.

Continue reading ‘The origin and role of organic matrix in coral calcification: insights from comparing coral skeleton and abiogenic aragonite’

Eutrophication may compromise the resilience of the Red Sea coral Stylophora pistillata to global change


• Interactive effects of stressors are variable; coral reefs should be managed on a local scale in accordance with local data.
• Additive effects of nutrients and global stressors result in changes in coral symbionts leading to shifts in overall health.
• Gulf of Aqaba corals may be resilient to OA and warming, yet a rise in nutrients would severely impede the reef.


Environmental stressors are adversely affecting coral reef ecosystems. There is ample evidence that scleractinian coral growth and physiology may be compromised by reduced pH, and elevated temperature, and that this is exacerbated by local environmental stressors. The Gulf of Aqaba is considered a coral reef refuge from acidification and warming but coastal development and nutrient effluent may pose a local threat. This study examined the effects of select forecasted environmental changes (acidification, warming, and increased nutrients) individually and in combination on the coral holobiont Stylophora pistillata from the Gulf of Aqaba to understand how corals in a potential global climate change refugia may fare in the face of local eutrophication. The results indicate interactions between all stressors, with elevated nutrient concentrations having the broadest individual and additive impacts upon the performance of S. pistillata. These findings highlight the importance of maintaining oligotrophic conditions to secure these reefs as potential refugia.

Continue reading ‘Eutrophication may compromise the resilience of the Red Sea coral Stylophora pistillata to global change’

An investigation into the physiological impacts of ocean acidification on recruits of the temperate coral, Oculina arbuscula

Ocean acidification is well-researched with respect to adult scleractinian corals, however information on whether adults and recruits of the same species respond similarly to this environmental stress is lacking. I investigated the responses to increased pCO2 of recruits of the temperate coral, Oculina arbuscula, whose adults are known to withstand high levels of pCO2 with no depression in calcification (up to 1000 ppm CO2). I addressed the hypothesis that O. arbuscula recruit health is not affected by increased pCO2 by exposing small colonies (5-12mm diameter) to 475, 711, and 1270 ppm CO2 for 75 days. Calcification rates were monitored throughout the experiment, while mortality, respiration rates, photosynthetic rates, zooxanthella densities, and soluble protein were determined at the end. As predicted, higher pCO2 did not impact survival, zooxanthella densities, or soluble protein. In contrast, both calcification rates and photosynthesis:respiration (P:R) ratios tended to be lower at higher pCO2. These results suggest that there is a size-dependent response to pCO2 within O. arbuscula, with recruits being unable to keep up with the increased energetic cost of calcification that occurs at higher pCO2. With the mean pCO2 increasing approximately 2.4% each year in the South Atlantic Bight (SAB), within the next 30 years O. arbuscula recruits are predicted to experience seasonal depressions in calcification rate driven by the overlying natural fluctuations in oceanic pCO2, and within 50 years recruits are anticipated to exhibit year-round depressions in calcification rate.

Continue reading ‘An investigation into the physiological impacts of ocean acidification on recruits of the temperate coral, Oculina arbuscula’

Reviews and syntheses: revisiting the boron systematics of aragonite and their application to coral calcification (update)

The isotopic and elemental systematics of boron in aragonitic coral skeletons have recently been developed as a proxy for the carbonate chemistry of the coral extracellular calcifying fluid. With knowledge of the boron isotopic fractionation in seawater and the B∕Ca partition coefficient (KD) between aragonite and seawater, measurements of coral skeleton δ11B and B∕Ca can potentially constrain the full carbonate system. Two sets of abiogenic aragonite precipitation experiments designed to quantify KD have recently made possible the application of this proxy system. However, while different KD formulations have been proposed, there has not yet been a comprehensive analysis that considers both experimental datasets and explores the implications for interpreting coral skeletons. Here, we evaluate four potential KD formulations: three previously presented in the literature and one newly developed. We assess how well each formulation reconstructs the known fluid carbonate chemistry from the abiogenic experiments, and we evaluate the implications for deriving the carbonate chemistry of coral calcifying fluid. Three of the KD formulations performed similarly when applied to abiogenic aragonites precipitated from seawater and to coral skeletons. Critically, we find that some uncertainty remains in understanding the mechanism of boron elemental partitioning between aragonite and seawater, and addressing this question should be a target of additional abiogenic precipitation experiments. Despite this, boron systematics can already be applied to quantify the coral calcifying fluid carbonate system, although uncertainties associated with the proxy system should be carefully considered for each application. Finally, we present a user-friendly computer code that calculates coral calcifying fluid carbonate chemistry, including propagation of uncertainties, given inputs of boron systematics measured in coral skeleton.

Continue reading ‘Reviews and syntheses: revisiting the boron systematics of aragonite and their application to coral calcification (update)’

Determining coral reef calcification and primary production using automated alkalinity, pH and pCO2 measurements at high temporal resolution

We investigated coral reef carbonate chemistry dynamics and metabolic rates using an automated system that measured total alkalinity (TA, 30 min intervals), pH on the total scale (pHT, 10 min intervals) and the partial pressure of carbon dioxide (pCO2, 1 min intervals) over 2 weeks at Heron Island (Great Barrier Reef, Australia). The calculation of pHT (using the pCO2 and TA pair) and pCO2 (using the pH and TA pair) had similar values to the measured pHT and pCO2 values. In contrast, calculated TA from the pCO2-pH pair showed a large discrepancy with measured TA (average difference between measured and calculated TA = 52 μmol kg−1). High frequency sampling allowed for detailed analysis of the observations and an assessment of optimum sampling intervals required to characterise the net ecosystem calcification (NEC) and production (NEP) using a slack water approach. Depending on the sampling interval (30 min–2 h time steps) used for calculations, the estimated daily NEC and NEP could differ by 12% and 30%, respectively. Abrupt changes in both NEC and NEP were observed at dawn and dusk, with positive NEC during these periods despite negative NEP. Integrating NEC and NEP over a full diel cycle using 1 or 2 h integration time steps resulted in small differences of 2–7% for NEC and 1–3% for NEP. A diel hysteresis pattern rather than a simple linear relationship was observed between the aragonite saturation state (Ωar) and NEC. The observed hysteresis supports recent studies suggesting that short-term observations of seawater Ωar may not be a good predictor of long-term changes in NEC due to ocean acidification. The slope of the DIC to TA relationship was slightly higher (0.33) in 2014 than in an earlier study in 2012 (0.30). The automated, high frequency sampling approach employed here can deliver high precision data and can be used at other coral reef research stations to reveal long-term changes in NEC and NEP potentially driven by ocean acidification, eutrophication or other local changes.

Continue reading ‘Determining coral reef calcification and primary production using automated alkalinity, pH and pCO2 measurements at high temporal resolution’

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Ocean acidification in the IPCC AR5 WG II

OUP book