Coral recruitment and calcium carbonate (CaCO3) accretion are fundamental processes that help maintain coral reefs. Many reefs worldwide have experienced degradation, including a decrease in coral cover and biodiversity. Successful coral recruitment helps degraded reefs to recover, while CaCO3 accretion by early successional benthic organisms maintains the topographic complexity of a coral reef system. It is therefore important to understand the processes that affect coral recruitment and CaCO3 accretion rates in order to understand how coral reefs recover from disturbances.
The aim of this thesis was to determine how biophysical forcing factors affect coral recruitment, calcification and bioerosion on a pristine coral reef. I used artificial settlement tiles to measure coral recruitment and CaCO3 accretion at ten sites (four on the fore reef, four on the Western Reef Terrace and two at the Entrance Channel) at Palmyra Atoll. Fungia skeletons and pieces of dead coral rock were used to measure bioerosion rates, which were combined with the CaCO3 accretion rates to obtain a net CaCO3 budget of the reef substratum. Interactions between coral recruits and other benthic organisms on the settlement tiles were recorded to determine the settlement preferences and competitive strength of coral recruits. The settlement preference of Pocillopora damicornis for divots shaped like steephead and bumphead parrotfish bites marks was determined by adding P. damicornis larvae to a container with a settlement tile with the aforementioned divots.
I found that coral recruitment and CaCO3 accretion are influenced by biophysical forcing factors. Most pocilloporids likely recruit close to their parents while the origin of poritid larvae is much more distant. Pocilloporid recruitment rates were also significantly correlated with the successional stage of the benthic community on the settlement tiles, especially the cover of biofilm and bryozoa. Biofilm and crustose coralline algae (CCA) were preferred as settlement substrata by coral larvae, however both pocilloporids and poritids settled on a large number of different benthic substrata. P. damicornis larvae showed a significant settlement preference for divots shaped like parrotfish bite marks over a flat settlement surface. Coral recruits were good competitors against encrusting algae but were often outcompeted by filamentous and upright algae. Settlement tiles were almost entirely colonised by benthic organisms within three to twelve months of deployment. The mass of CaCO3 deposited onto the settlement tiles negatively correlated with herbivore grazing pressure on the benthic community. Bioerosion rates within pieces of coral (internal bioerosion) increased over time but overall bioerosion rates (internal and external) rarely exceeded CaCO3 deposition by CCA.
My results show how variability in biophysical forcing factors leads to natural variation in coral recruitment and CaCO3 accretion. This thesis highlights the importance of measuring herbivore grazing, CCA and turf algae cover to gain a better understanding of reef resilience. I conclude that models constructed for Caribbean reefs may not be suited to predict resilience in Pacific reefs and that within the Pacific, two different kinds of resilience models need to be constructed, one for human-inhabited coral reefs and one for uninhabited coral reefs.
Continue reading ‘Factors affecting coral recruitment and calcium carbonate accretion rates on a Central Pacific coral reef’
Published 2 March 2017
Tags: algae, biological response, corals, individualmodeling, laboratory, Mediterranean, modelling, molecular biology, multiple factors, photosynthesis, physiology, Red Sea, temperature
The anthropogenic increase in atmospheric CO2 that drives global warming and ocean acidification raises serious concerns regarding the future of corals, the main carbonate biomineralizers. Here we used transcriptome analysis to study the effect of long-term gradual temperature increase (annual rate), combined with lowered pH values, on a sub-tropical Red Sea coral, Stylophora pistillata, and on a temperate Mediterranean symbiotic coral Balanophyllia europaea. The gene expression profiles revealed a strong effect of both temperature increase and pH decrease implying for synergism response. The temperate coral, exposed to a twice as high range of seasonal temperature fluctuations than the Red Sea species, faced stress more effectively. The compensatory strategy for coping apparently involves deviating cellular resources into a massive up-regulation of genes in general, and specifically of genes involved in the generation of metabolic energy. Our results imply that sub-lethal, prolonged exposure to stress can stimulate evolutionary increase in stress resilience.
Continue reading ‘Mediterranean versus Red sea corals facing climate change, a transcriptome analysis’
Diatoms are eukaryotic microalgae that are responsible for up to 40% of the ocean’s primary productivity. How diatoms respond to environmental perturbations such as elevated carbon concentrations in the atmosphere is currently poorly understood. We developed a transcriptional regulatory network based on various transcriptome sequencing expression libraries for different environmental responses to gain insight into the marine diatom’s metabolic and regulatory interactions and provide a comprehensive framework of responses to increasing atmospheric carbon levels. This transcriptional regulatory network was integrated with a recently published genome-scale metabolic model of Phaeodactylum tricornutum to explore the connectivity of the regulatory network and shared metabolites. The integrated regulatory and metabolic model revealed highly connected modules within carbon and nitrogen metabolism. P. tricornutum’s response to rising carbon levels was analyzed by using the recent genome-scale metabolic model with cross comparison to experimental manipulations of carbon dioxide.
IMPORTANCE: Using a systems biology approach, we studied the response of the marine diatom Phaeodactylum tricornutum to changing atmospheric carbon concentrations on an ocean-wide scale. By integrating an available genome-scale metabolic model and a newly developed transcriptional regulatory network inferred from transcriptome sequencing expression data, we demonstrate that carbon metabolism and nitrogen metabolism are strongly connected and the genes involved are coregulated in this model diatom. These tight regulatory constraints could play a major role during the adaptation of P. tricornutum to increasing carbon levels. The transcriptional regulatory network developed can be further used to study the effects of different environmental perturbations on P. tricornutum’s metabolism.
Continue reading ‘Integrated regulatory and metabolic networks of the marine diatom Phaeodactylum tricornutum predict the response to rising CO2 levels’
In the coastal ocean, temporal fluctuations in pH vary dramatically across biogeographic ranges. How such spatial differences in pH variability regimes might shape ocean acidification resistance in marine species remains unknown. We assessed the pH sensitivity of the sea urchin Strongylocentrotus purpuratus in the context of ocean pH variability. Using unique male–female pairs, originating from three sites with similar mean pH but different variability and frequency of low pH (pHT ≤ 7.8) exposures, fertilization was tested across a range of pH (pHT 7.61–8.03) and sperm concentrations. High fertilization success was maintained at low pH via a slight right shift in the fertilization function across sperm concentration. This pH effect differed by site. Urchins from the site with the narrowest pH variability regime exhibited the greatest pH sensitivity. At this site, mechanistic fertilization dynamics models support a decrease in sperm–egg interaction rate with decreasing pH. The site differences in pH sensitivity build upon recent evidence of local pH adaptation in S. purpuratus and highlight the need to incorporate environmental variability in the study of global change biology.
Continue reading ‘Sensitivity of sea urchin fertilization to pH varies across a natural pH mosaic’
Published 31 January 2017
Tags: abundance, algae, biological response, calcification, field, individualmodeling, light, modeling, multiple factors, otherprocess, photosynthesis, temperature
The oceans have absorbed excess carbon dioxide (CO2) resulting from anthropogenic activities such as the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation. As a result, seawater chemistry has shifted causing an increase in bicarbonate ions (HCO32-) and hydrogen ions (H+) and leading to a reduction in carbonate (CO32-) concentration. This shift in seawater chemistry leads to a decrease in aragonite saturation state and pH. Eventually, the ocean will accumulate most of the extra CO2 produced over many years resulting in extreme acidified conditions where aragonite saturation levels will not support the chemical process of calcification that is vital to marine calcifiers. This thesis investigates the combined effects of elevated pCO2 with temperature and light on the calcification and photosynthesis of the green calcareous algae Halimeda. Halimeda, is a major contributor to sediment production for coral reef accretion and island reef formation. Based on carbonate data from biologists and geologists it is estimated that vertical accretion of CaCO3 by Halimeda ranges between 0.18 to 5.9 m in 1000 years. The role that light plays in the coupling between photosynthesis and calcification in Halimeda macroloba was investigated experimentally through a combination of two pCO2 levels (360 and 1200 uatm) and three irradiances (80, 150, and 595 μmol quanta m-2 s-1). A decrease in calcification at low light intensity and elevated pCO2 suggests that light is a limiting factor for the physiology of H. macroloba. The effects of elevated pCO2 and temperature on the photosynthesis and calcification of Halimeda incrassata were tested through two experiments using two pCO2 levels (390 and 900 uatm) and four temperatures (26, 29, 30 and 34 °C). Elevated temperature can mitigate the effects Ocean Acidification (OA) in H. incrassata. An estimate of current carbonate production by H. incrassata in Key Biscayne Florida Lagoon was obtained from biomass, CaCO3 content and turnover rate. Calcification rates from laboratory experiments were used to estimate future (200 years from now) seasonal carbonate production rates, which were then compared against current summer carbonate production. Future summer carbonate production rates were not affected by elevated pCO2 in relationship to current summer carbonate production. Elevated temperatures ~2 °C above summer maximum average could promote calcification of H. incrassata under ocean acidification conditions and, therefore, overall carbonate production of the reef. Results throughout the thesis revealed that the tolerance of the green calcareous algae Halimeda to OA could change depending on light and temperature conditions. In a more acidic future ocean, growth rates and sediment production of Halimeda will be affected under low light and temperature and will be enhanced under high light and and moderate elevated temperatures.
Continue reading ‘Light and temperature control physiological responses of Halimeda to ocean acidification’
Ongoing ocean acidification is widely reported to reduce the ability of calcifying marine organisms to produce their shells and skeletons. Whereas increased dissolution due to acidification is a largely inorganic process, strong organismal control over biomineralization influences calcification and hence complicates predicting the response of marine calcifyers. Here we show that calcification is driven by rapid transformation of bicarbonate into carbonate inside the cytoplasm, achieved by active outward proton pumping. Moreover, this proton flux is maintained over a wide range of pCO2 levels. We furthermore show that a V-type H+ ATPase is responsible for the proton flux and thereby calcification. External transformation of bicarbonate into CO2 due to the proton pumping implies that biomineralization does not rely on availability of carbonate ions, but total dissolved CO2 may not reduce calcification, thereby potentially maintaining the current global marine carbonate production.
Continue reading ‘Proton pumping accompanies calcification in foraminifera’
Ocean acidification (OA)—a process describing the ocean’s increase in dissolved carbon dioxide ( pCO2) and a reduction in pH and aragonite saturation state (Ωar) due to higher concentrations of atmospheric CO2—is considered a threat to bivalve mollusks and other marine calcifiers. While many studies have focused on the effects of OA on shell formation and growth, we present findings on the separate effects of pCO2, Ωar, and pH on larval feeding physiology (initiation of feeding, gut fullness, and ingestion rates) of the California mussel Mytilus californianus. We found that elevated pCO2 delays initiation of feeding, while gut fullness and ingestion rates were best predicted by Ωar; however, pH was not found to have a significant effect on these feeding processes under the range of OA conditions tested. We also modeled how OA impacts on initial shell development and how feeding physiology might subsequently affect larval energy budget components (e.g. scope for growth) and developmental rate to 260 µm shell length, a size at which larvae typically become pediveligers. Our model predicted that Ωar impacts on larval shell size and ingestion rates over the initial 48 h period of development would result in a developmental delay to the pediveliger stage of >4 d, compared with larvae initially developing in supersaturated conditions (Ωar > 1). Collectively, these results suggest that predicted increases in pCO2 and reduced Ωar values may negatively impact feeding activity and energy balances of bivalve larvae, reducing their overall fitness and recruitment success.
Continue reading ‘Mechanistic understanding of ocean acidification impacts on larval feeding physiology and energy budgets of the mussel Mytilus californianus’