Posts Tagged 'corals'

High heritability of coral calcification rates and evolutionary potential under ocean acidification

Estimates of heritability inform evolutionary potential and the likely outcome of many management actions, but such estimates remain scarce for marine organisms. Here, we report high heritability of calcification rate among the eight most dominant Hawaiian coral species under reduced pH simulating future ocean conditions. Coral colonies were sampled from up to six locations across a natural mosaic in seawater chemistry throughout Hawaiʻi and fragmented into clonal replicates maintained under both ambient and high pCO2 conditions. Broad sense heritability of calcification rates was high among all eight species, ranging from a low of 0.32 in Porites evermanni to a high of 0.61 in Porites compressa. The overall results were inconsistent with short-term acclimatization to the local environment or adaptation to the mean or ideal conditions. Similarly, in ‘local vs. foreign’ and ‘home vs. away’ tests there was no clear signature of local adaptation. Instead, the data are most consistent with a protected polymorphism as the mechanism which maintains differential pH tolerance within the populations. Substantial individual variation, coupled with high heritability and large population sizes, imply considerable scope for natural selection and adaptive capacity, which has major implications for evolutionary potential and management of corals in response to climate change.

Continue reading ‘High heritability of coral calcification rates and evolutionary potential under ocean acidification’

Responses of symbiotic cnidarians to environmental change

As climate change intensifies, the capacity of organisms to adapt to changing environments becomes increasingly relevant. Heat-induced coral bleaching –the breakdown of the symbiotic association between coral hosts and photosynthetic algae of the family Symbiodiniaceae– is rapidly degrading reefs worldwide. Hence, there is a growing interest to study symbioses that can persist in extreme conditions. The Red Sea is such a place, known as one of the hottest seas where healthy coral reef systems thrive. Here (Chapter 1), we tested the potential of symbiont manipulation as means to improve the thermal resilience of the cnidarian holobiont, particularly using heat tolerant symbiont species from the Red Sea. We used clonal lineages of the model system Aiptasia (host and symbiont), originating from different thermal environments to assess how interchanging either partner affected their short- and long-term performance under heat stress. Our findings revealed that symbioses are not only intra-specific but have also adapted to native, local environments, thus potentially limiting the acclimation capacity of symbiotic cnidarians to climate change. As such, infection with more heat resistant species, even if native, might not necessarily improve thermotolerance of the holobiont. We further investigated (Chapter 2) how environment-dependent specificity, in this case elevated temperature, affects the establishment of novel symbioses. That is, if Aiptasia hosts are, despite exhibiting a high degree of partner fidelity, capable of acquiring more thermotolerant symbionts under stress conditions. Thus, we examined the infection dynamics of multi-species symbioses under different thermal environments and assessed their performance to subsequent heat stress. We showed that temperature, more than host identity, plays a critical role in symbiont uptake and overall performance when heatchallenged. Additionally, we found that pre-exposure to high temperature plays a fundamental role in improving the response to thermal stress, yet, this can be heavily influenced by other factors like feeding. Like climate change, ocean acidification is a serious threat to corals. Yet, most research has focused on the host and little is known for the algal partner. Thus, here we studied (Chapter 3) the global transcriptomic response of an endosymbiotic dinoflagellate to long-term seawater acidification stress. Our results revealed that despite observing an enrichment of processes related to photosynthesis and carbon fixation, which might seem beneficial to the symbiont, low pH has a detrimental effect on its photo-physiology. Taken together, this dissertation provides valuable insights into the responses of symbiotic cnidarians to future climate and ocean changes.

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Combined effects of global climate change and nutrient enrichment on the physiology of three temperate maerl species

Made up of calcareous coralline algae, maerl beds play a major role as ecosystem engineers in coastal areas throughout the world. They undergo strong anthropogenic pressures, which may threaten their survival. The aim of this study was to gain insight into the future of maerl beds in the context of global and local changes. We examined the effects of rising temperatures (+3°C) and ocean acidification (−0.3 pH units) according to temperature and pH projections (i.e., the RCP 8.5 scenario), and nutrient (N and P) availability on three temperate maerl species (Lithothamnion corallioides, Phymatolithon calcareum, and Lithophyllum incrustans) in the laboratory in winter and summer conditions. Physiological rates of primary production, respiration, and calcification were measured on all three species in each treatment and season. The physiological response of maerl to global climate change was species‐specific and influenced by seawater nutrient concentrations. Future temperature–pH scenario enhanced maximal gross primary production rates in P. calcareum in winter and in L. corallioides in both seasons. Nevertheless, both species suffered an impairment of light harvesting and photoprotective mechanisms in winter. Calcification rates at ambient light intensity were negatively affected by the future temperature–pH scenario in winter, with net dissolution observed in the dark in L. corallioides and P. calcareum under low nutrient concentrations. Nutrient enrichment avoided dissolution under future scenarios in winter and had a positive effect on L. incrustans calcification rate in the dark in summer. In winter conditions, maximal calcification rates were enhanced by the future temperature–pH scenario on the three species, but P. calcareum suffered inhibition at high irradiances. In summer conditions, the maximal calcification rate dropped in L. corallioides under the future global climate change scenario, with a potential negative impact on CaCO3 budget for maerl beds in the Bay of Brest where this species is dominant. Our results highlight how local changes in nutrient availability or irradiance levels impact the response of maerl species to global climate change and thus point out how it is important to consider other abiotic parameters in order to develop management policies capable to increase the resilience of maerl beds under the future global climate change scenario.

Continue reading ‘Combined effects of global climate change and nutrient enrichment on the physiology of three temperate maerl species’

Strong time dependence of ocean acidification mitigation by atmospheric carbon dioxide removal

In Paris in 2015, the global community agreed to limit global warming to well below 2 ∘C, aiming at even 1.5 ∘C. It is still uncertain whether these targets are sufficient to preserve marine ecosystems and prevent a severe alteration of marine biogeochemical cycles. Here, we show that stringent mitigation strategies consistent with the 1.5 ∘C scenario could, indeed, provoke a critical difference for the ocean’s carbon cycle and calcium carbonate saturation states. Favorable conditions for calcifying organisms like tropical corals and polar pteropods, both of major importance for large ecosystems, can only be maintained if CO2 emissions fall rapidly between 2025 and 2050, potentially requiring an early deployment of CO2 removal techniques in addition to drastic emissions reduction. Furthermore, this outcome can only be achieved if the terrestrial biosphere remains a carbon sink during the entire 21st century.

Continue reading ‘Strong time dependence of ocean acidification mitigation by atmospheric carbon dioxide removal’

Linking internal carbonate chemistry regulation and calcification in corals growing at a Mediterranean CO2 vent

Corals exert a strong biological control over their calcification processes, but there is a lack of knowledge on their capability of long-term acclimatization to ocean acidification (OA). We used a dual geochemical proxy approach to estimate the calcifying fluid pH (pHcf) and carbonate chemistry of a Mediterranean coral (Balanophyllia europaea) naturally growing along a pH gradient (range: pHTS 8.07–7.74). The pHcf derived from skeletal boron isotopic composition (δ11B) was 0.3–0.6 units above seawater values and homogeneous along the gradient (mean ± SEM: Site 1 = 8.39 ± 0.03, Site 2 = 8.34 ± 0.03, Site 3 = 8.34 ± 0.02). Also carbonate ion concentration derived from B/Ca was homogeneous [mean ± SEM (μmol kg–1): Site 1 = 579 ± 34, Site 2 = 541 ± 27, Site 3 = 568 ± 30] regardless of seawater pH. Furthermore, gross calcification rate (GCR, mass of CaCO3 deposited on the skeletal unit area per unit of time), estimated by a “bio-inorganic model” (IpHRAC), was homogeneous with decreasing pH. The homogeneous GCR, internal pH and carbonate chemistry confirm that the features of the “building blocks” – the fundamental structural components – produced by the biomineralization process were substantially unaffected by increased acidification. Furthermore, the pH up-regulation observed in this study could potentially explain the previous hypothesis that less “building blocks” are produced with increasing acidification ultimately leading to increased skeletal porosity and to reduced net calcification rate computed by including the total volume of the pore space. In fact, assuming that the available energy at the three sites is the same, this energy at the low pH sites could be partitioned among fewer calicoblastic cells that consume more energy given the larger difference between external and internal pH compared to the control, leading to the production of less building blocks (i.e., formation of pores inside the skeleton structure, determining increased porosity). However, we cannot exclude that also dissolution may play a role in increasing porosity. Thus, the ability of scleractinian corals to maintain elevated pHcf relative to ambient seawater might not always be sufficient to counteract declines in net calcification under OA scenarios.

Continue reading ‘Linking internal carbonate chemistry regulation and calcification in corals growing at a Mediterranean CO2 vent’

Ocean acidification as a multiple driver: how interactions between changing seawater carbonate parameters affect marine life

‘Multiple drivers’ (also termed ‘multiple stressors’) is the term used to describe the cumulative effects of multiple environmental factors on organisms or ecosystems. Here, we consider ocean acidification as a multiple driver because many inorganic carbon parameters are changing simultaneously, including total dissolved inorganic carbon, CO2, HCO3–, CO32–, H+ and CaCO3 saturation state. With the rapid expansion of ocean acidification research has come a greater understanding of the complexity and intricacies of how these simultaneous changes to the seawater carbonate system are affecting marine life. We start by clarifying key terms used by chemists and biologists to describe the changing seawater inorganic carbon system. Then, using key groups of non-calcifying (fish, seaweeds, diatoms) and calcifying (coralline algae, coccolithophores, corals, molluscs) organisms, we consider how various physiological processes are affected by different components of the carbonate system.

Continue reading ‘Ocean acidification as a multiple driver: how interactions between changing seawater carbonate parameters affect marine life’

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


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

• Thermal stress was the main driver of mortality.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ocean acidification in the IPCC AR5 WG II

OUP book