Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Rapid Coral Death

23.05.2012
Soil Erosion in Tropical Coastal Areas Accelerates Coral Death

Most people are fascinated by the colorful and exotic coral reefs, which form habitats with probably the largest biodiversity. But human civilisation is the top danger to these fragile ecosystems through climate change, oxygen depletion and ocean acidification. Industrialisation, deforestation and intensive farming in coastal areas are changing dramatically the conditions for life in the oceans.


Miriam Weber measures the oxygen concentration with hair-fine microsensors in a sediment layer, where the sediment was accumulated. If the organic load is increased in the two millimeter layer of sediments, the killing process will start. Blocked off from the light the algae will stop producing oxygen, microorganisms will start to decompose the organic matter, hydrogen sulfide is produced and kills the remaining cells.
C. Lott/HYDRA Institute/Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology, Bremen, c.lott@hydra-institute.com

Now Max Planck Scientists from Bremen together with their colleagues published their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.PNAS 10.1073/pnas.1100715109

Reef forming stone corals inhabitat the light-flooded tropical shallow coastal regions 30 degree south and north of the equator. Coral polyps build the carbonate skeletons that form the extensive reefs over hundreds to thousands of years. Photosynthesis of the symbiotic algae inside the polyps produces oxygen and carbohydrates from carbon dioxide and water, thereby feeding the polyps.

Coral Bleaching, the slow demise
Since the 1980s the process of coral bleaching is under study: elevated temperatures of 1 to 3 degrees induce the algae to produce toxins. The polyps react by expelling the algae and the coral reef loses its color as if it was bleached. Without its symbionts the coral can survive only several weeks.
Rapid death in less than 24 hours
In coastal areas with excessive soil erosion where rivers flush nutrients, organics and sediments to the sea, corals can die quickly when exposed to sedimentation. Miriam Weber, scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology in Bremen, explains the scientific approach.“Our idea was that a combination of enhanced deposition of sediments with elevated organic matter load and naturally occuring microorganisms can cause the sudden coral death. To get a handle on the diverse physical, chemical and biological parameters we performed our experiments at the Australian Institute for Marine Science (AIMS) in Townsville under controlled conditions in large containers (mesocosms), mimicking the natural habitat.“

The team of researchers found out the crucial steps:

Phase 1: When a two millimeter layer of sediment enriched with organic compounds covers the corals, the algae will stop photosynthesis, as the light is blocked.

Phase 2: If the sediments are organically enriched, then digestion of the organic material by microbial activity reduces oxygen concentrations underneath the sediment film to zero. Other microbes take over digesting larger carbon compounds via fermentation and hydrolysis thereby lowering the pH.

Phase 3: Lack of oxygen and acidic conditions harm small areas of coral tissue irreversibly. The dead material is digested by microbes producing hydrogen sulfide, a compound that is highly toxic for the remaining corals. The process gains momentum and the remainder of the sediment-covered coral surface is killed in less than 24 hours.

Miriam Weber: „First we thought that the toxic hydrogen sulfide is the first killer, but after intensive studies in the lab and mathematical modeling we could demonstrate that the organic enrichment is the proximal cause, as it leads to lack of oxygen and acidification, kicking the corals out of their natural balance. Hydrogen sulfide just speeds up the spreading of the damage. We were amazed that a mere 1% organic matter in the sediments is enough to trigger this process. The extreme effect of the combination of oxygen depletion and acidifation are of importance, keeping in mind the increasing acidification of the oceans. If we want to stop this destruction we need some political sanctions to protect coral reefs.“

Katharina Fabricius from the AIMS adds:“ This study has documented for the first time the mechanisms why those sediments that are enriched with nutrients and organic matter will damage coral reefs, while nutrient-poor sediments that are resuspended from the seafloor by winds and waves have little effect on reef health. Better land management practices are needed to minimise the loss of top soil and nutrients from the land where they are beneficial, and are not being washed into the coastal sea where they can cause so much damage to inshore coral reefs.“

Manfred Schloesser

For more information please contact

Dr. Miriam Weber, HYDRA Field Station/Centro Marino Elba, office +39 0565 988 027, Mobil +39 338 937 56 77, m.weber@hydra-institute.com

Dr. Dirk de Beer, Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology, office +49 421 2028 802, dbeer@mpi-bremen.de

Dr. Katharina Fabricius, AIMS Principal Research Scientist, k.fabricius@aims.gov.au

or the press officers of the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology

Dr. Manfred Schloesser, +49 421 2028704, mschloes@mpi-bremen.de
Dr. Rita Dunker, +49 421 2028856, rdunker@mpi-bremen.de
Original article
Mechanisms of damage to corals exposed to sedimentation
Miriam Weber, Dirk de Beer, Christian Lott, Lubos Polerecky, Katharina Kohls, Raeid M. M. Abed, Timothy G. Ferdelman, and Katharina E. Fabricius. PNAS 10.1073/pnas.1100715109 PNAS May 21, 2012

http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2012/05/18/1100715109.abstract

Scientific Institutes

Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology, 28359 Bremen, Germany

HYDRA Institute for Marine Sciences, Elba Field Station, 57034 Campo nell’Elba,
Italy;
Australian Institute of Marine Science, Townsville, Queensland 4810, Australia
Biology Department, College of Science, Sultan Qaboos University, Muscat 123, Sultanate of Oman

Dr. Manfred Schloesser | Max-Planck-Institut
Further information:
http://www.mpi-bremen.de/

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Preservation of floodplains is flood protection
27.09.2017 | Technische Universität München

nachricht Conservationists are sounding the alarm: parrots much more threatened than assumed
15.09.2017 | Justus-Liebig-Universität Gießen

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Neutron star merger directly observed for the first time

University of Maryland researchers contribute to historic detection of gravitational waves and light created by event

On August 17, 2017, at 12:41:04 UTC, scientists made the first direct observation of a merger between two neutron stars--the dense, collapsed cores that remain...

Im Focus: Breaking: the first light from two neutron stars merging

Seven new papers describe the first-ever detection of light from a gravitational wave source. The event, caused by two neutron stars colliding and merging together, was dubbed GW170817 because it sent ripples through space-time that reached Earth on 2017 August 17. Around the world, hundreds of excited astronomers mobilized quickly and were able to observe the event using numerous telescopes, providing a wealth of new data.

Previous detections of gravitational waves have all involved the merger of two black holes, a feat that won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics earlier this month....

Im Focus: Smart sensors for efficient processes

Material defects in end products can quickly result in failures in many areas of industry, and have a massive impact on the safe use of their products. This is why, in the field of quality assurance, intelligent, nondestructive sensor systems play a key role. They allow testing components and parts in a rapid and cost-efficient manner without destroying the actual product or changing its surface. Experts from the Fraunhofer IZFP in Saarbrücken will be presenting two exhibits at the Blechexpo in Stuttgart from 7–10 November 2017 that allow fast, reliable, and automated characterization of materials and detection of defects (Hall 5, Booth 5306).

When quality testing uses time-consuming destructive test methods, it can result in enormous costs due to damaging or destroying the products. And given that...

Im Focus: Cold molecules on collision course

Using a new cooling technique MPQ scientists succeed at observing collisions in a dense beam of cold and slow dipolar molecules.

How do chemical reactions proceed at extremely low temperatures? The answer requires the investigation of molecular samples that are cold, dense, and slow at...

Im Focus: Shrinking the proton again!

Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, using high precision laser spectroscopy of atomic hydrogen, confirm the surprisingly small value of the proton radius determined from muonic hydrogen.

It was one of the breakthroughs of the year 2010: Laser spectroscopy of muonic hydrogen resulted in a value for the proton charge radius that was significantly...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ASEAN Member States discuss the future role of renewable energy

17.10.2017 | Event News

World Health Summit 2017: International experts set the course for the future of Global Health

10.10.2017 | Event News

Climate Engineering Conference 2017 Opens in Berlin

10.10.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Terahertz spectroscopy goes nano

20.10.2017 | Information Technology

Strange but true: Turning a material upside down can sometimes make it softer

20.10.2017 | Materials Sciences

NRL clarifies valley polarization for electronic and optoelectronic technologies

20.10.2017 | Interdisciplinary Research

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>