New research intended to dissect one of the planet’s most fertile and endangered ecosystems may change the way scientists look at this symbiotic partnership, shifting it from a case where the polyps function only as landlords to one where the tiny creatures actually nurture their algae.
Preliminary findings were presented today in two papers at the 2008 Ocean Sciences meeting in Orlando. The research focuses on the key role that carbon plays on the recovery of damaged coral reefs.
Andrea Grottoli, an assistant professor of earth sciences at Ohio State University, has spent the last 14 years studying two common forms of coral that populate the reefs near the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology.
Two years ago, she reported that one of the corals she tested, Montipora capitata, or “rice” coral, was able to recover rapidly from bleaching because it increased its rate of feeding five-fold compared to how fast another form, Porites compressa, or “finger” coral, fed.
This strategy of gluttony enabled Montipora to survive the long-term damage that corals suffer when sea temperature climbs beyond the narrow 4 – 6 degree C range, where Porites might not.
What wasn’t clear from the earlier experiments was how the corals actually made use of carbon for their survival.
But when seawater temperatures climb, the coral will either jettison the algae altogether, or the algal cells will lose the pigments essential for photosynthesis to deliver the needed carbon. Without the algae, corals appear white, which is often referred to as “bleached.” Prolonged bleaching can lead to the coral dying. Either case presents a serious threat to the tiny creatures.
Grottoli wanted to determine exactly how the coral obtained its carbon and, in turn, how it used the material to survive. She placed samples of both healthy and bleached corals of both types in tanks mimicking actual ocean conditions. In one set of experiments, she pumped in seawater containing higher-than-normal levels of a carbon isotope, C-13. In another, she fed the corals zooplankton that were also heavily laced with the carbon isotope.
“We could track the carbon and determine if it was coming from either the photosynthetic process or from the animals’ feeding,” she said, “and then see how it was ultimately used by the animals. We could tell whether the process differed if the corals were healthy or bleached, or one species or the other.”
The experiments readily showed, as expected, that healthy corals had much more of the seawater-labeled carbon than did bleached corals, she said.
“But we could also see that in the healthy coral, the carbon was transferred into the algae where it is used for photosynthesis, and ultimately ends up in the animals’ skeleton,” Grottoli said. “So the corals are using photosynthetic carbon for calcification and to meet their daily metabolic demands.”
The carbon consumed while feeding, however, isn’t ending up in the skeleton, she said. Instead, it’s ending up both in the tissue of the coral polyp or inside the algae. With bleached samples, the coral is apparently feeding carbon to the algae.
“That’s what our work suggests and this is new. We’ve known that nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus are exchanged in this way but nobody ever knew that this was happening with carbon,” she said.
The bottom line, Grottoli says, is that the photosynthetic carbon is used for metabolic demands and calcification, while the carbon gained from feeding is used for tissue growth.
“Without both forms, the coral simply cannot fully recover,” she said.
“All corals need both photosynthesis and feeding for recovery and the rate of those two processes is the key to whether the coral can actually meet all its metabolic demands and ultimately recover.”
Grottoli’s work is supported in part by the National Science Foundation. Along with Grottoli, Adam Hughes, a postdoctoral fellow in her lab, and Tamara Pease, an assistant professor of marine science at the University of Texas at Austin, worked on the project.
Andrea Grottoli | EurekAlert!
Value from wastewater
16.08.2017 | Hochschule Landshut
Species Richness – a false friend? Scientists want to improve biodiversity assessments
01.08.2017 | Carl von Ossietzky-Universität Oldenburg
Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.
As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...
Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.
Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...
For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.
While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...
An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.
The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...
A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...
16.08.2017 | Event News
04.08.2017 | Event News
26.07.2017 | Event News
18.08.2017 | Life Sciences
18.08.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
18.08.2017 | Materials Sciences