Nav: Home

A tale of two sites

May 16, 2017

Talk about stressed out. Cauliflower coral larvae are feeling the heat -- literally.

At least they were when UC Santa Barbara marine scientists exposed them to warmer water in an effort to understand how future climate change might impact coral reefs.

The results? Less tolerance for stress. The findings appear in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

"This study really looks at how ocean changes like warming and acidification will impact the ability of coral larvae to disperse and contribute to creating new reefs," said senior author Gretchen Hofmann, a professor in UCSB's Department of Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology. "If certain coral parents make tougher progeny, then there's some hope that we'll see really rapid tolerance of future climate change conditions."

Hofmann's graduate student Emily Rivest and Taiwanese colleagues studied the larvae of cauliflower coral (Pocillopora damicornis) from Moorea and Taiwan, locations that nearly span the range of the species. They wanted to determine how the young coral life stages reacted to two co-occurring environmental stresses: elevated temperature and ocean acidification.

Specimens from Taiwan, the scientists discovered, exhibited less stress tolerance to warmer water than did their counterparts in Moorea. Faced with conditions of ocean acidification, however, larvae at both sites exhibited no signs of stress. The investigators, who also catalogued differences in the natural seawater conditions at each site, observed that local adaptation might also play a role in responses to temperature.

The researchers gathered specimens of adult cauliflower coral to collect their larvae, which are released at night. They analyzed the fat content, including two different types of lipid.

"The lipids are important energy stores for the coral," explained lead author Rivest, who conducted this work at UCSB as part of her doctoral thesis and is now an assistant professor at Virginia Institute of Marine Science. "The larvae rely mostly on these lipid stores to fuel their dispersal, and their lipid levels can influence how far they can travel, impacting the ability for one reef to repopulate or save a nearby reef."

It turned out that the larvae's energy stores at "birth" differed depending on where the specimens originated. Rivest measured lipid stores immediately after larvae were released from adult corals and again after a 24-hour exposure to warmer and more acidic water. She then subtracted one from the other to determine both the amount of lipid used by the larvae in response to the temperature and ocean acidification conditions, and the remaining lipid levels.

"In response to high temperatures, the larvae from Taiwan consumed more lipid, which meant that they found that condition to be quite stressful," Rivest explained. "At the end of the experiment, they didn't have as much lipid to last them the rest of their dispersal, so it meant they might not be able to travel as far."

Larvae in Moorea, which were born with more fat, weren't as sensitive to temperature. This makes sense, Rivest noted, because corals in Moorea already live in warmer water. "Because of their genetics or other aspects of their physiology, they already may have the tools they need to tolerate higher water temperatures without having to burn that extra energy," she said.

Where larvae come from is important, according to Rivest -- at least for cauliflower coral. "The environmental conditions unique to each location shape the ability of these animals to tolerate future change in their environment," she said. "While there isn't one solution that fits all, it appears that there are places where corals will fare better under future changing conditions. If we continue to work at this, then we can help identify reefs that will be more resistant to environmental consequences of human-caused climate change."
-end-
The research was conducted with the Moorea Long Term Ecological Research program overseen by UCSB and Taiwan's National Museum for Marine Biology and Aquarium, home to co-authors Chii-Shiarng Chen, Tung-Yung Fan and Hsing-Hui Li. This work was supported by the National Science Foundation.

University of California - Santa Barbara

Related Ocean Acidification Articles:

Ocean acidification impacts oysters' memory of environmental stress
Researchers from the University of Washington School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences have discovered that ocean acidification impacts the ability of some oysters to pass down 'memories' of environmental trauma to their offspring.
Coral 'helper' stays robust under ocean acidification
A type of algae crucial to the survival of coral reefs may be able to resist the impacts of ocean acidification caused by climate change.
Ocean acidification is damaging shark scales
Sharks have unusual type of scales referred to as 'denticles.' A research group from South Africa and Germany that includes Jacqueline Dziergwa and Professor Dr.
New threat from ocean acidification emerges in the Southern Ocean
Scientists investigating the effect of ocean acidification on diatoms, a key group of microscopic marine organisms, phytoplankton, say they have identified a new threat from climate change -- ocean acidification is negatively impacting the extent to which diatoms in Southern Ocean waters incorporate silica into their cell walls.
Coral skeleton crystals record ocean acidification
The acidification of the oceans is recorded in the crystals of the coral skeleton.
Ocean acidification boosts algal growth but impairs ecological relationships
Shrimp fed on marine algae grown in acidic water do not undergo a sex change that is a characteristic part of their reproductive life-cycle, report Mirko Mutalipassi and colleagues at Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn in Italy in a study publishing June 26 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE.
Ocean acidification 'could have consequences for millions'
Ocean acidification could have serious consequences for the millions of people globally whose lives depend on coastal protection, fisheries and aquaculture, a new publication suggests.
Southern Ocean acidification puts marine organisms at risk
New research co-authored by University of Alaska indicates that acidification of the Southern Ocean will cause a layer of water to form below the surface that corrodes the shells of some sea snails.
Ocean acidification harms cod larvae more than previously thought
The Atlantic cod is one of the most important commercial fish species in the world.
Business as usual for Antarctic krill despite ocean acidification
A new IMAS-led study has found that Antarctic krill are resilient to the increasing acidification of the ocean as it absorbs more C02 from the atmosphere due to anthropogenic carbon emissions.
More Ocean Acidification News and Ocean Acidification Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Climate Mindset
In the past few months, human beings have come together to fight a global threat. This hour, TED speakers explore how our response can be the catalyst to fight another global crisis: climate change. Guests include political strategist Tom Rivett-Carnac, diplomat Christiana Figueres, climate justice activist Xiye Bastida, and writer, illustrator, and artist Oliver Jeffers.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Speedy Beet
There are few musical moments more well-worn than the first four notes of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. But in this short, we find out that Beethoven might have made a last-ditch effort to keep his music from ever feeling familiar, to keep pushing his listeners to a kind of psychological limit. Big thanks to our Brooklyn Philharmonic musicians: Deborah Buck and Suzy Perelman on violin, Arash Amini on cello, and Ah Ling Neu on viola. And check out The First Four Notes, Matthew Guerrieri's book on Beethoven's Fifth. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.