Nav: Home

UBCO researcher uses computer modelling to predict reef health

August 25, 2020

A UBC Okanagan researcher has developed a way to predict the future health of the planet's coral reefs.

Working with scientists from Australia's Flinders' University and privately-owned research firm Nova Blue Environment, biology doctoral student Bruno Carturan has been studying the ecosystems of the world's endangered reefs.

"Coral reefs are among the most diverse ecosystems on Earth and they support the livelihoods of more than 500 million people," says Carturan. "But coral reefs are also in peril. About 75 per cent of the world's coral reefs are threatened by habitat loss, climate change and other human-caused disturbances."

Carturan, who studies resilience, biodiversity and complex systems under UBCO Professors Lael Parrott and Jason Pither, says nearly all the world's reefs will be dangerously affected by 2050 if no effective measures are taken.

There is hope, however, as he has determined a way to examine the reefs and explore why some reef ecosystems appear to be more resilient than others. Uncovering why, he says, could help stem the losses.

"In other ecosystems, including forests and wetlands, experiments have shown that diversity is key to resilience," says Carturan. "With more species, comes a greater variety of form and function--what ecologists call traits. And with this, there is a greater likelihood that some particular traits, or combination of traits, help the ecosystem better withstand and bounce back from disturbances."

The importance of diversity for the health and stability of ecosystems has been extensively investigated by ecologists, he explains. While the consensus is that ecosystems with more diversity are more resilient and function better, the hypothesis has rarely been tested experimentally with corals.

Using an experiment to recreate the conditions found in real coral reefs is challenging for several reasons--one being that the required size, timeframe and number of different samples and replicates are just unmanageable.

That's where computer simulation modelling comes in.

"Technically called an 'agent-based model', it can be thought of as a virtual experimental arena that enables us to manipulate species and different types of disturbances, and then examine their different influences on resilience in ways that are just not feasible in real reefs," explains Carturan.

In his simulation arena, individual coral colonies and algae grow, compete with one another, reproduce and die. And they do all this in realistic ways. By using agent-based models--with data collected by many researchers over decades--scientists can manipulate the initial diversity of corals, including their number and identity, and see how the virtual reef communities respond to threats.

"This is crucial because these traits are the building blocks that give rise to ecosystem structure and function. For instance, corals come in a variety of forms--from simple spheres to complex branching--and this influences the variety of fish species these reefs host, and their susceptibility to disturbances such as cyclones and coral bleaching."

By running simulations over and over again, the model can identify combinations that can provide the greatest resilience. This will help ecologists design reef management and restoration strategies using predictions from the model, says collaborating Flinders researcher Professor Corey Bradshaw.

"Sophisticated models like ours will be useful for coral-reef management around the world," Bradshaw adds. "For example, Australia's iconic Great Barrier Reef is in deep trouble from invasive species, climate change-driven mass bleaching and overfishing."

"This high-resolution coral 'video game' allows us to peek into the future to make the best possible decisions and avoid catastrophes."
-end-
The research, supported by grants from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and the Canada Foundation for Innovation, was published recently in eLife.

University of British Columbia Okanagan campus

Related Science Articles:

75 science societies urge the education department to base Title IX sexual harassment regulations on evidence and science
The American Educational Research Association (AERA) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) today led 75 scientific societies in submitting comments on the US Department of Education's proposed changes to Title IX regulations.
Science/Science Careers' survey ranks top biotech, biopharma, and pharma employers
The Science and Science Careers' 2018 annual Top Employers Survey polled employees in the biotechnology, biopharmaceutical, pharmaceutical, and related industries to determine the 20 best employers in these industries as well as their driving characteristics.
Science in the palm of your hand: How citizen science transforms passive learners
Citizen science projects can engage even children who previously were not interested in science.
Applied science may yield more translational research publications than basic science
While translational research can happen at any stage of the research process, a recent investigation of behavioral and social science research awards granted by the NIH between 2008 and 2014 revealed that applied science yielded a higher volume of translational research publications than basic science, according to a study published May 9, 2018 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Xueying Han from the Science and Technology Policy Institute, USA, and colleagues.
Prominent academics, including Salk's Thomas Albright, call for more science in forensic science
Six scientists who recently served on the National Commission on Forensic Science are calling on the scientific community at large to advocate for increased research and financial support of forensic science as well as the introduction of empirical testing requirements to ensure the validity of outcomes.
World Science Forum 2017 Jordan issues Science for Peace Declaration
On behalf of the coordinating organizations responsible for delivering the World Science Forum Jordan, the concluding Science for Peace Declaration issued at the Dead Sea represents a global call for action to science and society to build a future that promises greater equality, security and opportunity for all, and in which science plays an increasingly prominent role as an enabler of fair and sustainable development.
PETA science group promotes animal-free science at society of toxicology conference
The PETA International Science Consortium Ltd. is presenting two posters on animal-free methods for testing inhalation toxicity at the 56th annual Society of Toxicology (SOT) meeting March 12 to 16, 2017, in Baltimore, Maryland.
Citizen Science in the Digital Age: Rhetoric, Science and Public Engagement
James Wynn's timely investigation highlights scientific studies grounded in publicly gathered data and probes the rhetoric these studies employ.
Science/Science Careers' survey ranks top biotech, pharma, and biopharma employers
The Science and Science Careers' 2016 annual Top Employers Survey polled employees in the biotechnology, biopharmaceutical, pharmaceutical, and related industries to determine the 20 best employers in these industries as well as their driving characteristics.
Three natural science professors win TJ Park Science Fellowship
Professor Jung-Min Kee (Department of Chemistry, UNIST), Professor Kyudong Choi (Department of Mathematical Sciences, UNIST), and Professor Kwanpyo Kim (Department of Physics, UNIST) are the recipients of the Cheong-Am (TJ Park) Science Fellowship of the year 2016.
More Science News and Science 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

Listen Again: The Power Of Spaces
How do spaces shape the human experience? In what ways do our rooms, homes, and buildings give us meaning and purpose? This hour, TED speakers explore the power of the spaces we make and inhabit. Guests include architect Michael Murphy, musician David Byrne, artist Es Devlin, and architect Siamak Hariri.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#576 Science Communication in Creative Places
When you think of science communication, you might think of TED talks or museum talks or video talks, or... people giving lectures. It's a lot of people talking. But there's more to sci comm than that. This week host Bethany Brookshire talks to three people who have looked at science communication in places you might not expect it. We'll speak with Mauna Dasari, a graduate student at Notre Dame, about making mammals into a March Madness match. We'll talk with Sarah Garner, director of the Pathologists Assistant Program at Tulane University School of Medicine, who takes pathology instruction out of...
Now Playing: Radiolab

What If?
There's plenty of speculation about what Donald Trump might do in the wake of the election. Would he dispute the results if he loses? Would he simply refuse to leave office, or even try to use the military to maintain control? Last summer, Rosa Brooks got together a team of experts and political operatives from both sides of the aisle to ask a slightly different question. Rather than arguing about whether he'd do those things, they dug into what exactly would happen if he did. Part war game part choose your own adventure, Rosa's Transition Integrity Project doesn't give us any predictions, and it isn't a referendum on Trump. Instead, it's a deeply illuminating stress test on our laws, our institutions, and on the commitment to democracy written into the constitution. This episode was reported by Bethel Habte, with help from Tracie Hunte, and produced by Bethel Habte. Jeremy Bloom provided original music. Support Radiolab by becoming a member today at Radiolab.org/donate.     You can read The Transition Integrity Project's report here.