Scleractinian corals are essential constituents of tropical reef ecological diversity. They live in close association with diazotrophs [dinitrogen (N2)-fixing microbes], which can fix high rates of N2. Whether corals benefit from this extrinsic nitrogen source is still under debate. Until now, N2 fixation rates have been indirectly estimated using the acetylene reduction assay, which does not permit assessment of the amount of nitrogen incorporated into the different compartments of the coral holobiont. In the present study, the (15)N2 technique was applied for the first time on three Red Sea coral species. Significant (15)N enrichment was measured in particles released by corals to the surrounding seawater. N2 fixation rates were species specific and as high as 1.6-2 ng N day(-1) l(-1). However, no significant enrichment was measured in the symbiotic dinoflagellates or the coral host tissues, suggesting that corals do not benefit from diazotrophic N2 fixation.
Thermal stress affects organism performance differently depending on the ambient temperature to which they are acclimatized, which varies along latitudinal gradients. This study investigated whether differences in physiological responses to temperature are consistent with regional differences in temperature regimes for the stony coral Oculina patagonica. To resolve this question, we experimentally assessed how colonies originating from four different locations characterized by >3 °C variation in mean maximum annual temperature responded to warming from 20 to 32 °C. We assessed plasticity in symbiont identity, density, and photosynthetic properties, together with changes in host tissue biomass. Results show that, without changes in the type of symbiont hosted by coral colonies, O. patagonica has limited capacity to acclimatize to future warming. We found little evidence of variation in overall thermal tolerance, or in thermal optima, in response to spatial variation in ambient temperature. Given that the invader O. patagonica is a relatively new member of the Mediterranean coral fauna, our results also suggest that coral populations may need to remain isolated for a long period of time for thermal adaptation to potentially take place. Our study indicates that for O. patagonica, mortality associated with thermal stress manifests primarily through tissue breakdown under moderate but prolonged warming (which does not impair symbiont photosynthesis and, therefore, does not lead to bleaching). Consequently, projected global warming is likely to cause repeat incidents of partial and whole colony mortality and might drive a gradual range contraction of Mediterranean corals.
Marine anthozoans maintain a mutualistic symbiosis with dinoflagellates that are prolific producers of the algal secondary metabolite dimethylsulfoniopropionate (DMSP), the precursor of the climate-cooling trace gas dimethyl sulfide (DMS). Surprisingly, little is known about the physiological role of DMSP in anthozoans and the environmental factors that regulate its production. Here, we assessed the potential functional role of DMSP as an antioxidant and determined how future increases in seawater pCO2 may affect DMSP concentrations in the anemone Anemonia viridis along a natural pCO2 gradient at the island of Vulcano, Italy. There was no significant difference in zooxanthellae genotype and characteristics (density of zooxanthellae, and chlorophyll a) as well as protein concentrations between anemones from three stations along the gradient, V1 (3232 ?atm CO2), V2 (682 ?atm) and control (463 ?atm), which indicated that A.?viridis can acclimate to various seawater pCO2. In contrast, DMSP concentrations in anemones from stations V1 (33.23?±?8.30 fmol cell(-1)) and V2 (34.78?±?8.69 fmol cell(-1)) were about 35% lower than concentrations in tentacles from the control station (51.85?±?12.96 fmol cell(-1)). Furthermore, low tissue concentrations of DMSP coincided with low activities of the antioxidant enzyme superoxide dismutase (SOD). Superoxide dismutase activity for both host (7.84?±?1.37?U·mg(-1) protein) and zooxanthellae (2.84?±?0.41?U·mg(-1) protein) at V1 was 40% lower than at the control station (host: 13.19?±?1.42; zooxanthellae: 4.72?±?0.57?U·mg(-1) protein). Our results provide insight into coastal DMSP production under predicted environmental change and support the function of DMSP as an antioxidant in symbiotic anthozoans.
Vermetids form reefs in sub-tropical and warm-temperate waters that protect coasts from erosion, regulate sediment transport and accumulation, serve as carbon sinks and provide habitat for other species. The gastropods that form these reefs brood encapsulated larvae; they are threatened by rapid environmental changes since their ability to disperse is very limited. We used transplant experiments along a natural CO2 gradient to assess ocean acidification effects on the reef-building gastropod Dendropoma petraeum. We found that although D. petraeum were able to reproduce and brood at elevated levels of CO2, recruitment success was adversely affected. Long-term exposure to acidified conditions predicted for the year 2100 and beyond caused shell dissolution and a significant increase in shell Mg content. Unless CO2 emissions are reduced and conservation measures taken, our results suggest these reefs are in danger of extinction within this century, with significant ecological and socioeconomic ramifications for coastal systems.
Ocean acidification (OA) is not an isolated threat, but acts in concert with other impacts on ecosystems and species. Coastal marine invertebrates will have to face the synergistic interactions of OA with other global and local stressors. One local factor, common in coastal environments, is trace element contamination. CO2 vent sites are extensively studied in the context of OA and are often considered analogous to the oceans in the next few decades. The CO2 vent found at Levante Bay (Vulcano, NE Sicily, Italy) also releases high concentrations of trace elements to its surrounding seawater, and is therefore a unique site to examine the effects of long-term exposure of nearby organisms to high pCO2 and trace element enrichment in situ. The sea anemone Anemonia viridis is prevalent next to the Vulcano vent and does not show signs of trace element poisoning/stress. The aim of our study was to compare A. viridis trace element profiles and compartmentalization between high pCO2 and control environments. Rather than examining whole anemone tissue, we analyzed two different body compartments-the pedal disc and the tentacles, and also examined the distribution of trace elements in the tentacles between the animal and the symbiotic algae. We found dramatic changes in trace element tissue concentrations between the high pCO2/high trace element and control sites, with strong accumulation of iron, lead, copper and cobalt, but decreased concentrations of cadmium, zinc and arsenic proximate to the vent. The pedal disc contained substantially more trace elements than the anemone's tentacles, suggesting the pedal disc may serve as a detoxification/storage site for excess trace elements. Within the tentacles, the various trace elements displayed different partitioning patterns between animal tissue and algal symbionts. At both sites iron was found primarily in the algae, whereas cadmium, zinc and arsenic were primarily found in the animal tissue. Our data suggests that A. viridis regulates its internal trace element concentrations by compartmentalization and excretion and that these features contribute to its resilience and potential success at the trace element-rich high pCO2 vent.
Increase in anthropogenic pCO2 alters seawater chemistry and could lead to reduced calcification or skeleton dissolution of calcifiers and thereby weaken coral-reef structure. Studies have suggested that the complex and diverse responses in stony coral growth and calcification, as a result of elevated pCO2, can be explained by the extent to which their soft tissues cover the underlying skeleton. This study compared the effects of decreased pH on the microstructural features of both in hospite (within the colony) and isolated sclerites (in the absence of tissue protection) of the zooxanthellate reef-dwelling octocoral Ovabunda macrospiculata. Colonies and isolated sclerites were maintained under normal (8.2) and reduced (7.6 and 7.3) pH conditions for up to 42 days. Both in hospite and isolated sclerites were then examined under SEM and ESEM microscopy in order to detect any microstructural changes. No differences were found in the microstructure of the in hospite sclerites between the control and the pH treatments. In stark contrast, the isolated sclerites revealed dissolution damage related to the acidity of the water. These findings suggest a protective role of the octocoral tissue against adverse pH conditions, thus maintaining them unharmed at high pCO2. In light of the competition for space with the less resilient reef calcifiers, octocorals may thus have a significant advantage under greater than normal acidic conditions.
Coral-algae symbiosis is a key feature of tropical corals and is highly dependent on the efficiency with which solar energy is attenuated by the coral. Scleractinian corals are among the most efficient light collectors in nature because of the modulation of the internal light field in the coral skeleton. Interestingly, coral skeleton particles composing the sandy bottoms in reef margins sustain these optical characteristics. In the present study, we examined two free-living coral species - Heterocyathus aequicostatus (Caryophyllidae) and Heteropsammia cochlea (Dendrophylliidae) - common on biogenic coarse carbonate sand of the Great Barrier Reef but absent from fine sand at the same depth. In coarse carbonate sand, light penetrates a few millimeters below the surface and propagates along horizontal distances of a few centimeters. In fine sand, almost all of the light is reflected back to the water column. For photosynthetic sand-dwelling organisms such as the studied species, with over one-third of their surface area facing the substrate, light flux to their underside may be beneficial. A correlation was found between the diameter of these corals and the distance that light may travel in the sand under the coral. Laboratory and field measurements show that the symbiotic algae on the underside of the corallites are photosynthetically active even when the coral is partially buried, implying sufficient light penetration. Other organisms in the study site, such as fungid corals and foraminiferans, with different morphologies, have different light-trapping strategies but are also photosynthesizing on their underside. The importance of the substrate type to the performance of the three main partners of the symbiosis (coral, endosymbiotic algae and a sipunculan worm) is highlighted, and is a striking example of co-evolution.
Coral reefs face multiple anthropogenic threats, from pollution and overfishing to the dual effects of greenhouse gas emissions: rising sea temperature and ocean acidification. While the abundance of coral has declined in recent decades, the implications for humanity are difficult to quantify because they depend on ecosystem function rather than the corals themselves. Most reef functions and ecosystem services are founded on the ability of reefs to maintain their three-dimensional structure through net carbonate accumulation. Coral growth only constitutes part of a reefs carbonate budget; bioerosion processes are influential in determining the balance between net structural growth and disintegration. Here, we combine ecological models with carbonate budgets and drive the dynamics of Caribbean reefs with the latest generation of climate models. Budget reconstructions using documented ecological perturbations drive shallow (6-10 m) Caribbean forereefs toward an increasingly fragile carbonate balance. We then projected carbonate budgets toward 2080 and contrasted the benefits of local conservation and global action on climate change. Local management of fisheries (specifically, no-take marine reserves) and the watershed can delay reef loss by at least a decade under "business-as-usual" rises in greenhouse gas emissions. However, local action must be combined with a low-carbon economy to prevent degradation of reef structures and associated ecosystem services.
In obligate symbioses, the hosts survival relies on the successful acquisition and maintenance of symbionts. Symbionts can either be transferred from parent to offspring via direct inheritance (vertical transmission) or acquired anew each generation from the environment (horizontal transmission). With vertical symbiont transmission, progeny benefit by not having to search for their obligate symbionts, and, with symbiont inheritance, a mechanism exists for perpetuating advantageous symbionts. But, if the progeny encounter an environment that differs from that of their parent, they may be disadvantaged if the inherited symbionts prove suboptimal. Conversely, while in horizontal symbiont acquisition host survival hinges on an unpredictable symbiont source, an individual host may acquire genetically diverse symbionts well suited to any given environment. In horizontal acquisition, however, a potentially advantageous symbiont will not be transmitted to subsequent generations. Adaptation in obligate symbioses may require mechanisms for both novel symbiont acquisition and symbiont inheritance. Using denaturing-gradient gel electrophoresis and real-time PCR, we identified the dinoflagellate symbionts (genus Symbiodinium) hosted by the Red Sea coral Stylophora pistillata throughout its ontogenesis and over depth. We present evidence that S. pistillata juvenile colonies may utilize both vertical and horizontal symbiont acquisition strategies. By releasing progeny with maternally derived symbionts, that are also capable of subsequent horizontal symbiont acquisition, coral colonies may acquire physiologically advantageous novel symbionts that are then perpetuated via vertical transmission to subsequent generations. With symbiont inheritance, natural selection can act upon the symbiotic variability, providing a mechanism for coral adaptation.
The stability and persistence of coral reefs in the decades to come is uncertain due to global warming and repeated bleaching events that will lead to reduced resilience of these ecological and socio-economically important ecosystems. Identifying key refugia is potentially important for future conservation actions. We suggest that the Gulf of Aqaba (GoA) (Red Sea) may serve as a reef refugium due to a unique suite of environmental conditions. Our hypothesis is based on experimental detection of an exceptionally high bleaching threshold of northern Red Sea corals and on the potential dispersal of coral planulae larvae through a selective thermal barrier estimated using an ocean model. We propose that millennia of natural selection in the form of a thermal barrier at the southernmost end of the Red Sea have selected coral genotypes that are less susceptible to thermal stress in the northern Red Sea, delaying bleaching events in the GoA by at least a century.
The main source of calcium carbonate (CaCO?) in the ocean comes from the shells of calcifying planktonic organisms, but substantial amounts of CaCO? are also produced in fish intestines. The precipitation of CaCO? assists fish in intestinal water absorption and aids in whole body Ca²? homeostasis. Here we report that the product formed in the intestinal lumen of the gilt-head seabream, Sparus aurata, is an amorphous calcium carbonate (ACC) phase. With FTIR spectroscopy and SEM imaging, our study shows that the fish-derived carbonates from S. aurata are maintained as a stable amorphous phase throughout the intestinal tract. Moreover, intestinal deposits contained up to 54?mol% Mg²?, the highest concentration yet reported in biogenic ACC. Mg is most likely responsible for stabilizing this inherently unstable mineral. The fish carbonates also displayed initial rapid dissolution when exposed to seawater, exhibiting a significant increase in carbonate concentration.
Outbreaks of coral disease have increased worldwide over the last few decades. Despite this, remarkably little is known about the ecology of disease in the Indo-Pacific Region. Here we report the spatiotemporal dynamics of a coral disease termed Acroporid white syndrome observed to affect tabular corals of the genus Acropora on the southern Great Barrier Reef. The syndrome is characterised by rapid tissue loss initiating in the basal margins of colonies, and manifests as a distinct lesion boundary between apparently healthy tissue and exposed white skeleton. Surveys of eight sites around Heron Reef in 2004 revealed a mean prevalence of 8.1±0.9%, affecting the three common species (Acropora cytherea, A. hyacinthus, A. clathrata) and nine other tabular Acropora spp. While all sizes of colonies were affected, white syndrome disproportionately affected larger colonies of tabular Acroporids (>80 cm). The prevalence of white syndrome was strongly related to the abundance of tabular Acroporids within transects, yet the incidence of the syndrome appears unaffected by proximity to other colonies, suggesting that while white syndrome is density dependant, it does not exhibit a strongly aggregated spatial pattern consistent with previous coral disease outbreaks. Acroporid white syndrome was not transmitted by either direct contact in the field or by mucus in aquaria experiments. Monitoring of affected colonies revealed highly variable rates of tissue loss ranging from 0 to 1146 cm(-2) week(-1), amongst the highest documented for a coral disease. Contrary to previous links between temperature and coral disease, rates of tissue loss in affected colonies increased threefold during the winter months. Given the lack of spatial pattern and non-infectious nature of Acroporid white syndrome, further studies are needed to determine causal factors and longer-term implications of disease outbreaks on the Great Barrier Reef.
Wave lensing produces the highest level of transient solar irradiances found in nature, ranging in intensity over several orders of magnitude in just a few tens of milliseconds. Shallow coral reefs can be exposed to wave lensing during light-wind, clear-sky conditions, which have been implicated as a secondary cause of mass coral bleaching through light stress. Management strategies to protect small areas of high-value reef from wave-lensed light stress were tested using seawater irrigation sprinklers to negate wave lensing by breaking up the water surface. A series of field and tank experiments investigated the physical and photophysiological response of the shallow-water species Stylophora pistillata and Favites abdita to wave lensing and sprinkler conditions. Results show that the sprinkler treatment only slightly reduces the total downwelling photosynthetically active and ultraviolet irradiance (?5.0%), whereas it dramatically reduces, by 460%, the irradiance variability caused by wave lensing. Despite this large reduction in variability and modest reduction in downwelling irradiance, there was no detectable difference in photophysiological response of the corals between control and sprinkler treatments under two thermal regimes of ambient (27°C) and heated treatment (31°C). This study suggests that shallow-water coral species are not negatively affected by the strong flashes that occur under wave-lensing conditions.
Rising concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide are acidifying the worlds oceans. Surface seawater pH is 0.1 units lower than pre-industrial values and is predicted to decrease by up to 0.4 units by the end of the century. This change in pH may result in changes in the physiology of ocean organisms, in particular, organisms that build their skeletons/shells from calcium carbonate, such as corals. This physiological change may also affect other members of the coral holobiont, for example, the microbial communities associated with the coral, which in turn may affect the coral physiology and health. In the present study, we examined changes in bacterial communities in the coral mucus, tissue and skeleton following exposure of the coral Acropora eurystoma to two different pH conditions: 7.3 and 8.2 (ambient seawater). The microbial community was different at the two pH values, as determined by denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis and 16S rRNA gene sequence analysis. Further analysis of the community in the corals maintained at the lower pH revealed an increase in bacteria associated with diseased and stressed corals, such as Vibrionaceae and Alteromonadaceae. In addition, an increase in the number of potential antibacterial activity was recorded among the bacteria isolated from the coral maintained at pH 7.3. Taken together, our findings highlight the impact that changes in the pH may have on the coral-associated bacterial community and their potential contribution to the coral host.
Many terrestrial plants form complex morphological structures and will alter these growth patterns in response to light direction. Similarly reef building corals have high morphological variation across coral families, with many species also displaying phenotypic plasticity across environmental gradients. In particular, the colony geometry in branching corals is altered by the frequency, location and direction of branch initiation and growth. This study demonstrates that for the branching species Acropora pulchra, light plays a key role in axial polyp differentiation and therefore axial corallite development--the basis for new branch formation. A. pulchra branches exhibited a directional growth response, with axial corallites only developing when light was available, and towards the incident light. Field experimentation revealed that there was a light intensity threshold of 45 micromol m(-2) s(-1), below which axial corallites would not develop and this response was blue light (408-508 nm) dependent. There was a twofold increase in axial corallite growth above this light intensity threshold and a fourfold increase in axial corallite growth under the blue light treatment. These features of coral branch growth are highly reminiscent of the initiation of phototropic branch growth in terrestrial plants, which is directed by the blue light component of sunlight.
Ocean acidification is increasingly recognized as a component of global change that could have a wide range of impacts on marine organisms, the ecosystems they live in, and the goods and services they provide humankind. Assessment of these potential socio-economic impacts requires integrated efforts between biologists, chemists, oceanographers, economists and social scientists. But because ocean acidification is a new research area, significant knowledge gaps are preventing economists from estimating its welfare impacts. For instance, economic data on the impact of ocean acidification on significant markets such as fisheries, aquaculture and tourism are very limited (if not non-existent), and non-market valuation studies on this topic are not yet available. Our paper summarizes the current understanding of future OA impacts and sets out what further information is required for economists to assess socio-economic impacts of ocean acidification. Our aim is to provide clear directions for multidisciplinary collaborative research.
Increasing anthropogenic pCO2 alters seawater chemistry, with potentially severe consequences for coral reef growth and health. Octocorals are the second most important faunistic component in many reefs, often occupying 50% or more of the available substrate. Three species of octocorals from two families were studied in Eilat (Gulf of Aqaba), comprising the zooxanthellate Ovabunda macrospiculata and Heteroxenia fuscescens (family Xeniidae), and Sarcophyton sp. (family Alcyoniidae). They were maintained under normal (8.2) and reduced (7.6 and 7.3) pH conditions for up to 5 months. Their biolological features, including protein concentration, polyp weight, density of zooxanthellae, and their chlorophyll concentration per cell, as well as polyp pulsation rate, were examined under conditions more acidic than normal, in order to test the hypothesis that rising pCO2 would affect octocorals. The results indicate no statistically significant difference between the octocorals exposed to reduced pH values compared to the control. It is therefore suggested that the octocorals tissue may act as a protective barrier against adverse pH conditions, thus maintaining them unharmed at high levels of pCO2.
Ocean acidification, resulting from rising atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations, is a pervasive stressor that can affect many marine organisms and their symbionts. Studies which examine the host physiology and microbial communities have shown a variety of responses to the ocean acidification process. Recently, several studies were conducted based on field experiments, which take place in natural CO(2) vents, exposing the host to natural environmental conditions of varying pH. This study examines the sea anemone Anemonia viridis which is found naturally along the pH gradient in Ischia, Italy, with an aim to characterize whether exposure to pH impacts the holobiont. The physiological parameters of A. viridis (Symbiodinium density, protein, and chlorophyll a+c concentration) and its microbial community were monitored. Although reduction in pH was seen to have had an impact on composition and diversity of associated microbial communities, no significant changes were observed in A. viridis physiology, and no microbial stress indicators (i.e., pathogens, antibacterial activity, etc.) were detected. In light of these results, it appears that elevated CO(2) does not have a negative influence on A. viridis that live naturally in the site. This suggests that natural long-term exposure and dynamic diverse microbial communities may contribute to the acclimation process of the host in a changing pH environment.
Surface seawater pH is currently 0.1 units lower than pre-industrial values and is projected to decrease by up to 0.4 units by the end of the century. This acidification has the potential to cause significant perturbations to the physiology of ocean organisms, particularly those such as corals that build their skeletons/shells from calcium carbonate. Reduced ocean pH could also have an impact on the coral microbial community, and thus may affect coral physiology and health. Most of the studies to date have examined the impact of ocean acidification on corals and/or associated microbiota under controlled laboratory conditions. Here we report the first study that examines the changes in coral microbial communities in response to a natural pH gradient (mean pH(T) 7.3-8.1) caused by volcanic CO(2) vents off Ischia, Gulf of Naples, Italy. Two Mediterranean coral species, Balanophyllia europaea and Cladocora caespitosa, were examined. The microbial community diversity and the physiological parameters of the endosymbiotic dinoflagellates (Symbiodinium spp.) were monitored. We found that pH did not have a significant impact on the composition of associated microbial communities in both coral species. In contrast to some earlier studies, we found that corals present at the lower pH sites exhibited only minor physiological changes and no microbial pathogens were detected. Together, these results provide new insights into the impact of ocean acidification on the coral holobiont.
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