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!
Hunting pressure on forest animals in Africa is on the increase
09.02.2016 | Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main
Man-made underwater sound may have wider ecosystem effects than previously thought
05.02.2016 | University of Southampton
Exceeding critical temperature limits in the Southern Ocean may cause the collapse of ice sheets and a sharp rise in sea levels
A future warming of the Southern Ocean caused by rising greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere may severely disrupt the stability of the West...
Indications of light-induced lossless electricity transmission in fullerenes contribute to the search for superconducting materials for practical applications.
Superconductors have long been confined to niche applications, due to the fact that the highest temperature at which even the best of these materials becomes...
Researchers at King’s College London and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in the United Kingdom have for the first time demonstrated a direct link between the Wbp2 gene and progressive hearing loss. The scientists report that the loss of Wbp2 expression leads to progressive high-frequency hearing loss in mouse as well as in two clinical cases of children with deafness with no other obvious features. The results are published in EMBO Molecular Medicine.
The scientists have shown that hearing impairment is linked to hormonal signalling rather than to hair cell degeneration. Wbp2 is known as a transcriptional...
Pollens, the bane of allergy sufferers, could represent a boon for battery makers: Recent research has suggested their potential use as anodes in lithium-ion batteries.
"Our findings have demonstrated that renewable pollens could produce carbon architectures for anode applications in energy storage devices," said Vilas Pol, an...
Automobiles increase the mobility of their users. However, their maneuverability is pushed to the limit by cramped inner city conditions. Those who need to...
09.02.2016 | Event News
02.02.2016 | Event News
26.01.2016 | Event News
09.02.2016 | Event News
09.02.2016 | Materials Sciences
09.02.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering