Posts Tagged 'morphology'

Two offshore coral species show greater acclimatization capacity to environmental variation than nearshore counterparts in southern Belize

Coral reefs are enduring decline due to the intensifying impacts of anthropogenic global change. This widespread decline has resulted in increased efforts to identify resilient coral populations and develop novel restoration strategies. Paramount in these efforts is the need to understand how environmental variation and thermal history affect coral physiology and resilience. Here, we assess the acclimatization capacity of Siderastrea siderea and Pseudodiploria strigosa corals via a 17-month reciprocal transplant experiment between nearshore and offshore reefs on the Belize Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System. These nearshore reefs are more turbid, eutrophic, warm, and thermally variable than offshore reefs. All corals exhibited some evidence of acclimatization after transplantation. Corals transplanted from nearshore to offshore calcified slower than in their native habitat, especially S. siderea corals which exhibited 60% mortality and little to no net growth over the duration of the 17-month study. Corals transplanted from offshore to nearshore calcified faster than in their native habitat with 96% survival. Higher host tissue δ15N in nearshore corals indicated that increased heterotrophic opportunity or nitrogen sources between nearshore and offshore reefs likely promoted elevated calcification rates nearshore and may facilitate adaptation in nearshore populations to such conditions over time. These results demonstrate that offshore populations of S. siderea and P. strigosa possess the acclimatization capacity to survive in warmer and more turbid nearshore conditions, but that local adaptation to native nearshore conditions may hinder the plasticity of nearshore populations, thereby limiting their utility in coral restoration activities outside of their native habitat in the short term.

Continue reading ‘Two offshore coral species show greater acclimatization capacity to environmental variation than nearshore counterparts in southern Belize’

Planktic foraminiferal and pteropod contributions to carbon dynamics in the Arctic Ocean (North Svalbard Margin)

Planktic foraminifera and shelled pteropods are some of the major producers of calcium carbonate (CaCO3) in the ocean. Their calcitic (foraminifera) and aragonitic (pteropods) shells are particularly sensitive to changes in the carbonate chemistry and play an important role for the inorganic and organic carbon pump of the ocean. Here, we have studied the abundance distribution of planktic foraminifera and pteropods (individuals m–3) and their contribution to the inorganic and organic carbon standing stocks (μg m–3) and export production (mg m–2 day–1) along a longitudinal transect north of Svalbard at 81° N, 22–32° E, in the Arctic Ocean. This transect, sampled in September 2018 consists of seven stations covering different oceanographic regimes, from the shelf to the slope and into the deep Nansen Basin. The sea surface temperature ranged between 1 and 5°C in the upper 300 m. Conditions were supersaturated with respect to CaCO3 (Ω > 1 for both calcite and aragonite). The abundance of planktic foraminifera ranged from 2.3 to 52.6 ind m–3 and pteropods from 0.1 to 21.3 ind m–3. The planktic foraminiferal population was composed mainly of the polar species Neogloboquadrina pachyderma (55.9%) and the subpolar species Turborotalita quinqueloba (21.7%), Neogloboquadrina incompta (13.5%) and Globigerina bulloides (5.2%). The pteropod population was dominated by the polar species Limacina helicina (99.6%). The rather high abundance of subpolar foraminiferal species is likely connected to the West Spitsbergen Current bringing warm Atlantic water to the study area. Pteropods dominated at the surface and subsurface. Below 100 m water depth, foraminifera predominated. Pteropods contribute 66–96% to the inorganic carbon standing stocks compared to 4–34% by the planktic foraminifera. The inorganic export production of planktic foraminifera and pteropods together exceeds their organic contribution by a factor of 3. The overall predominance of pteropods over foraminifera in this high Arctic region during the sampling period suggest that inorganic standing stocks and export production of biogenic carbonate would be reduced under the effects of ocean acidification.

Continue reading ‘Planktic foraminiferal and pteropod contributions to carbon dynamics in the Arctic Ocean (North Svalbard Margin)’

Impacts of seagrass on benthic microalgae and phytoplankton communities in an experimentally warmed coral reef mesocosm

The effects of seagrass on microalgal assemblages under experimentally elevated temperatures (28°C) and CO2 partial pressures (pCO2; 800 μatm) were examined using coral reef mesocosms. Concentrations of nitrate, ammonium, and benthic microalgal chlorophyll a (chl-a) were significantly higher in seagrass mesocosms, whereas phytoplankton chl-a concentrations were similar between seagrass and seagrass-free control mesocosms. In the seagrass group, fewer parasitic dinoflagellate OTUs (e.g., Syndiniales) were found in the benthic microalgal community though more symbiotic dinoflagellates (e.g., Cladocopium spp.) were quantified in the phytoplankton community. Our results suggest that, under ocean acidification conditions, the presence of seagrass nearby coral reefs may (1) enhance benthic primary productivity, (2) decrease parasitic dinoflagellate abundance, and (3) possibly increase the presence of symbiotic dinoflagellates.

Continue reading ‘Impacts of seagrass on benthic microalgae and phytoplankton communities in an experimentally warmed coral reef mesocosm’

Effects of triclosan exposure on the energy budget of Ruditapes philippinarum and R. decussatus under climate change scenarios


  • Environmental triclosan levels alter the reproductive output of R. philippinarum.
  • Environmental triclosan levels reduce body mass in R. philippinarum.
  • R. decussatus growth was resilient to environmental changes.
  • Worst case scenario (TCS and climate change) will affect Manila clam production.


We built a simulation model based on Dynamic Energy Budget theory (DEB) to assess the growth and reproductive potential of the native European clam Ruditapes decussatus and the introduced Manila clam Ruditapes philippinarum under current temperature and pH conditions in a Portuguese estuary and under those forecasted for the end of the 21st c. The climate change scenario RCP8.5 predicts temperature increase of 3 °C and a pH decrease of 0.4 units. The model was run under additional conditions of exposure to the emerging contaminant triclosan (TCS) and in the absence of this compound. The parameters of the DEB model were calibrated with the results of laboratory experiments complemented with data from the literature available for these two important commercial shellfish resources. For each species and experimental condition (eight combinations), we used data from the experiments to produce estimates for the key parameters controlling food intake flux, assimilation flux, somatic maintenance flux and energy at the initial simulation time. The results showed that the growth and reproductive potential of both species would be compromised under future climate conditions, but the effect of TCS exposure had a higher impact on the energy budget than forecasted temperature and pH variations. The egg production of R. philippinarum was projected to suffer a more marked reduction with exposure to TCS, regardless of the climatic factor, while the native R. decussatus appeared more resilient to environmental causes of stress. The results suggest a likely decrease in the rates of expansion of the introduced R. philippinarum in European waters, and negative effects on fisheries and aquaculture production of exposure to emerging contaminants (e.g., TCS) and climate change.

Continue reading ‘Effects of triclosan exposure on the energy budget of Ruditapes philippinarum and R. decussatus under climate change scenarios’

Oyster biomineralization under ocean acidification: from genes to shell

Biomineralization is one of the key processes that is notably affected in marine calcifiers such as oysters under ocean acidification (OA). Understanding molecular changes in the biomineralization process under OA and its heritability, therefore, is key to developing conservation strategies for protecting ecologically and economically important oyster species. To do this, in this study, we have explicitly chosen the tissue involved in biomineralization (mantle) of an estuarine commercial oyster species, Crassostrea hongkongensis. The primary aim of this study is to understand the influence of DNA methylation over gene expression of mantle tissue under decreased ~pH 7.4, a proxy of OA, and to extrapolate if these molecular changes can be observed in the product of biomineralization—the shell. We grew early juvenile C. hongkongensis, under decreased ~pH 7.4 and control ~pH 8.0 over 4.5 months and studied OA-induced DNA methylation and gene expression patterns along with shell properties such as microstructure, crystal orientation and hardness. The population of oysters used in this study was found to be moderately resilient to OA at the end of the experiment. The expression of key biomineralization-related genes such as carbonic anhydrase and alkaline phosphatase remained unaffected; thus, the mechanical properties of the shell (shell growth rate, hardness and crystal orientation) were also maintained without any significant difference between control and OA conditions with signs of severe dissolution. In addition, this study makes three major conclusions: (1) higher expression of Ca2+ binding/signalling-related genes in the mantle plays a key role in maintaining biomineralization under OA; (2) DNA methylation changes occur in response to OA; however, these methylation changes do not directly control gene expression; and (3) OA would be more of a ‘dissolution problem’ rather than a ‘biomineralization problem’ for resilient species that maintain calcification rate with normal shell growth and mechanical properties.

Rajan K. C., Meng Y., Yu Z., Roberts S. B. & Vengatesen T., in press. Oyster biomineralization under ocean acidification: from genes to shell. Global Change Biology. Article (subscription required).

Impact of ocean carbonation on long-term regulation of light harvesting in eelgrass Zostera marina

Seagrasses account for approximately 10% of the ocean’s total carbon storage, although photosynthesis of seagrasses is carbon-limited at today’s oceanic pH. Therefore, increasing atmospheric CO2 concentration, which results in ocean acidification/carbonation, is predicted to have a positive impact on seagrass productivity. Previous studies have confirmed the positive influence of increasing CO2 on photosynthesis and survival of the temperate eelgrass Zostera marina, but the acclimation of photoprotective mechanisms in this context has not been characterized. This study aimed to quantify the long-term impacts of ocean acidification on photochemical control mechanisms that promote photosynthesis while simultaneously protecting eelgrass from photodamage. Eelgrass were grown in controlled outdoor aquaria at different aqueous CO2 concentrations ranging from ~50 to ~2100 μM from May 2013 to October 2014 and examined for differences in leaf optical properties. Even with daily and seasonal variations of temperature and light, CO2 enrichment consistently increased plant size, leaf thickness and chlorophyll use efficiency, and decreased pigment content and the package effect while maintaining similar light harvesting efficiency. These acclimation responses suggest a common photosynthetic sensory function, such as redox regulation, can be manipulated by CO2 availability, as well as light, and may serve to optimize photosynthetic carbon gain by seagrasses into the anthropocene.

Continue reading ‘Impact of ocean carbonation on long-term regulation of light harvesting in eelgrass Zostera marina’

Online-coupling of widely-ranged timescales to model coral reef development


  • A biophysical model framework for coral reef evolution is developed.
  • The model can be used to predict the coral response to the environment via process-based relations.
  • The model bridges the gap in timescales of processes from seconds to millennia.
  • Model predictions are within the accuracy of climate projections.
  • The model is an efficient tool for forecasting coral reef development to inform policy makers.


The increasing pressure on Earth’s ecosystems due to climate change is becoming more and more evident and the impacts of climate change are especially visible on coral reefs. Understanding how climate change interacts with the physical environment of reefs to impact coral growth and reef development is critically important to predicting the persistence of reefs into the future. In this study, a biophysical model was developed including four environmental factors in a feedback loop with the coral’s biology: (1) light; (2) hydrodynamics; (3) temperature; and (4) pH. The submodels are online coupled, i.e. regularly exchanging information and feedbacks while the model runs. This ensures computational efficiency despite the widely-ranged timescales. The composed biophysical model provides a significant step forward in understanding the processes that modulate the evolution of coral reefs, as it is the first construction of a model in which the hydrodynamics are included in the feedback loop.

Continue reading ‘Online-coupling of widely-ranged timescales to model coral reef development’

Coral bleaching response is unaltered following acclimatization to reefs with distinct environmental conditions


Ocean warming has caused catastrophic losses of corals on reefs worldwide and is intensifying faster than the adaptive rate of most coral populations that remain. Human interventions, such as propagation of heat-resistant corals, may help maintain reef function and delay further devastation of these valuable ecosystems as society confronts the climate crisis. However, exposing adult corals to a complex suite of new environmental conditions could lead to tradeoffs that alter their heat stress responses, and empirical data are needed to test the utility of this approach. Here, we show that corals transplanted to novel reef conditions did not exhibit changes in their heat stress response or negative fitness tradeoffs, supporting the inclusion of this approach in our management arsenal.


Urgent action is needed to prevent the demise of coral reefs as the climate crisis leads to an increasingly warmer and more acidic ocean. Propagating climate change–resistant corals to restore degraded reefs is one promising strategy; however, empirical evidence is needed to determine whether stress resistance is affected by transplantation beyond a coral’s native reef. Here, we assessed the performance of bleaching-resistant individuals of two coral species following reciprocal transplantation between reefs with distinct pH, salinity, dissolved oxygen, sedimentation, and flow dynamics to determine whether heat stress response is altered following coral exposure to novel physicochemical conditions in situ. Critically, transplantation had no influence on coral heat stress responses, indicating that this trait was relatively fixed. In contrast, growth was highly plastic, and native performance was not predictive of performance in the novel environment. Coral metabolic rates and overall fitness were higher at the reef with higher flow, salinity, sedimentation, and diel fluctuations of pH and dissolved oxygen, and did not differ between native and cross-transplanted corals, indicating acclimatization via plasticity within just 3 mo. Conversely, cross-transplants at the second reef had higher fitness than native corals, thus increasing the fitness potential of the recipient population. This experiment was conducted during a nonbleaching year, so the potential benefits to recipient population fitness are likely enhanced during bleaching years. In summary, this study demonstrates that outplanting bleaching-resistant corals is a promising tool for elevating the resistance of coral populations to ocean warming.

Continue reading ‘Coral bleaching response is unaltered following acclimatization to reefs with distinct environmental conditions’

Energetic context determines the effects of multiple upwelling-associated stressors on sea urchin performance

Globally, kelp forests are threatened by multiple stressors, including increasing grazing by sea urchins. With coastal upwelling predicted to increase in intensity and duration in the future, understanding whether kelp forest and urchin barren urchins are differentially affected by upwelling-related stressors will give insight into how future conditions may affect the transition between kelp forests and barrens. We assessed how current and future-predicted changes in the duration and magnitude of upwelling-associated stressors (low pH, dissolved oxygen, and temperature) affected the performance of purple sea urchins (Strongylocentrotus purpuratus) sourced from rapidly-declining bull kelp (Nereocystis leutkeana) forests and nearby barrens and maintained on habitat-specific diets. Kelp forest urchins were of superior condition to barrens urchins, with ~ 6–9 times more gonad per body mass. Grazing and condition in kelp forest urchins were more negatively affected by distant-future and extreme upwelling conditions, whereas grazing and survival in urchins from barrens were sensitive to both current-day and all future-predicted upwelling, and to increases in acidity, hypoxia, and temperature regardless of upwelling. We conclude that urchin barren urchins are more susceptible to increases in the magnitude and duration of upwelling-related stressors than kelp forest urchins. These findings have important implications for urchin population dynamics and their interaction with kelp.

Continue reading ‘Energetic context determines the effects of multiple upwelling-associated stressors on sea urchin performance’

Coral reefs in the Anthropocene ocean: novel insights from skeletal proxies of climate change, impacts, and resilience

Anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are driving rapid changes in ocean conditions. Shallow-water coral reefs are experiencing the brunt of these changes, including intensifying marine heatwaves (MHWs) and rapid ocean acidification (OA). Consequently, coral reefs are in broad-scale decline, threatening the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people. Ensuring survival of coral reefs in the 21st century will thus require a new management approach that incorporates robust understanding of reef-scale climate change, the mechanisms by which these changes impact corals, and their potential for adaptation. In this thesis, I extract information from within coral skeletons to 1) Quantify the climate changes occurring on coral reefs and the effects on coral growth, 2) Identify differences in the sensitivity of coral reefs to these changes, and 3) Evaluate the adaptation potential of the keystone reef-building coral, Porites. First, I develop a mechanistic Porites growth model and reveal the physicochemical link between OA and skeletal formation. Ishow that the thickening (densification) of coralskeletal framework is most vulnerable to OA and that, under 21st century climate model projections, OA will reduce Porites skeletal density globally, with greatest impact in the Coral Triangle. Second, I develop an improved metric of thermal stress, and use a skeletal bleaching proxy to quantify coral responses to intensifying heatwaves in the central equatorial Pacific (CEP) since 1982. My work reveals a long history of bleaching in the CEP, and reef-specific differences in thermal tolerance linked to past heatwave exposure implying that, over time, reef communities have adapted to tolerate their unique thermal regimes. Third, I refine the Sr-U paleo-thermometer to enable monthly-resolved sea surface temperatures (SST) generation using laser ablation ICPMS. I show that laser Sr-U accurately captures CEP SST, including the frequency and amplitude of MHWs. Finally, I apply laser Sr-U to reconstruct the past 100 years of SST at Jarvis Island in the CEP, and evaluate my proxy record of bleaching severity in this context. I determine that Porites coral populations on Jarvis Island have not yet adapted to the pace of anthropogenic climate change.

Continue reading ‘Coral reefs in the Anthropocene ocean: novel insights from skeletal proxies of climate change, impacts, and resilience’

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Ocean acidification in the IPCC AR5 WG II

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