TAU researchers discover soft coral tissue may help protect reefs against the hazardous effects of climate change
Coral reefs are home to a rich and diverse ecosystem, providing a habitat for a wide range of marine animals. But the increasing acidification of ocean water is jeopardizing the calcified foundations of these reefs, endangering the survival of thousands upon thousands of resident species.
New research by Prof. Yehuda Benayahu, Dr. Zehava Barkay, Prof. Maoz Fine, and their jointly supervised graduate student Yasmin Gabay of Tel Aviv University's Department of Zoology, Wolfson Applied Materials Research Center and the Interuniversity Institute for Marine Sciences in Eilat has uncovered the protective properties of soft coral tissue, which proved resilient when exposed to declining oceanic pH levels. The study, published in PLOS One, provides insight into the changing face of coral reefs threatened by dropping oceanic pH levels and may provide a new approach toward preserving the harder, calcified reef foundations.
Reefs and environmental change
Acidification is caused by increased carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere due to global change, fossil fuel burning, and other pollution. These emissions dissolve in the ocean, resulting in a slight lowering of oceanic pH levels. This produces changes to ocean water's carbon content, destroying the calcification of reef-building stony coral.
"The rise in temperature and ocean acidification are the main concerns of environmental change," said Prof. Benayahu, the Israel Cohen Chair in Environmental Zoology, whose TAU laboratory is home to one of the world's only soft coral (octocoral) research centers. "We know the value of reefs, the massive calcium carbonate constructions that act as wave breakers, and protect against floods, erosion, hurricanes, and typhoons. While alive, they provide habitats for thousands of living organisms, from sea urchins to clams, algae to fish. Reefs are also economically important in regions like Eilat or the Caribbean."
At first, the researchers examined the effects of lowered pH levels on living colonies of soft corals. Observing no significant effects on their physiology, Gabay thought it would be interesting to consider the effects of acidification on the skeleton of these soft corals.
"We really wanted to know if something could survive dropping pH levels in the future," said Gabay. "I was curious as to whether coral tissue could protect the inner coral skeleton, which is of most use in terms of reef construction, so I conducted an experiment using live soft corals and soft coral skeletons, which were placed in tanks containing ocean water with manipulated pH levels."
Using state-of-the-art microscopy, Gabay then scanned the tissue-covered skeletons and bare skeletons of soft corals exposed to experimental acidic conditions, the same conditions the International Panel of Climate Change predicts will occur 100 years from now if carbon dioxide emissions continue to rise. She found that the bare soft coral skeletons exhibited acidic stressed symptoms — large pockets burned into their microscopic corpuscular subunits — whereas the tissue-covered skeleton revealed almost no damage to its microscopic subunits.
"We found that the soft coral's tissue may indeed protect the skeleton from declining pH levels," said Yasmin Gabay. "The organism's internal environment apparently has a mechanism that protects against the acidic conditions."
The future of "the orchestra"
According to Prof. Benayahu, the future of soft-coral reefs is still unclear. Soft corals are not primary reef builders, because their skeletons are slow to calcify. Stony corals provide the massive skeletons that create reefs. Soft corals are replacing these reef builders, because they are somehow able to survive and live under extreme environmental conditions.
"A reef is like an orchestra. Many organisms interact to create harmony," said Prof. Benayahu. "Thousands of species live together and create life together. It is hard to predict what will happen if only soft corals survive, because they simply do not calcify at same rate as stony corals."
The researchers are currently studying the potential effects of soft coral displacement of stony coral species and the subsequent ramifications for reefs.
George Hunka | Eurek Alert!
Global threat to primates concerns us all
19.01.2017 | Deutsches Primatenzentrum GmbH - Leibniz-Institut für Primatenforschung
Reducing household waste with less energy
18.01.2017 | FIZ Karlsruhe – Leibniz-Institut für Informationsinfrastruktur GmbH
An important step towards a completely new experimental access to quantum physics has been made at University of Konstanz. The team of scientists headed by...
Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...
Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.
While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...
Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales
Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...
Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.
As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...
19.01.2017 | Event News
10.01.2017 | Event News
09.01.2017 | Event News
20.01.2017 | Awards Funding
20.01.2017 | Materials Sciences
20.01.2017 | Life Sciences