Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Coral reefs and climate change: Microbes could be the key to coral death

03.04.2008
Recent die-off of corals unprecedented in the last 3,000 years

Coral reefs could be dying out because of changes to the microbes that live in them just as much as from the direct rise in temperature caused by global warming, according to scientists speaking today (Wednesday 2 April 2008) at the Society for General Microbiology’s 162nd meeting being held this week at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre.

Tropical ecosystems are currently balanced on a climate change knife edge. Corals in coral reefs, which are made up of animals called polyps that secrete hard external skeletons of calcium carbonate, are living perilously close to their upper temperature limits. This makes them very vulnerable to even small temperature rises of 1-2oC above the normal summer maximum.

“Many of the deaths we see in the coral reefs, which occur following coral bleaching events, when huge areas of reef die off like in 1998 when 17% of the world’s reefs were killed, can be put down to changes in the microbes which live in and around the reefs,” says Dr John Bythell, a biologist from Newcastle University. “These microbes can be thought of as being similar to the bacteria that normally live in our guts and help us digest our food.”

Changes in sea temperature caused by climate change and global warming affect corals, but they also affect the types of bacteria and other microflora that live with them. When the water warms up, some disease-causing bacteria are more successful and can attack the corals. The corals themselves suffer from heat, which reduces their defences. Also, some of the friendly bacteria that normally live in the corals’ guts become weakened, allowing other harmful bacteria to multiply and cause diseases or other problems.

For many communities in developing countries, which rely on coral reefs for their fisheries and tourism income, the loss of coral reefs has major impacts on their economies. They also lose valuable coastal defences and land to coastal erosion, affecting human welfare in the communities.

“We need a better understanding of the processes and mechanisms that impact on corals and the reefs when sea temperatures rise to confirm the ultimate causes of their decline,” says Dr Bythell. “Although local actions to reverse the overall decline in reef health are probably not feasible, we need this better understanding to try to reduce or eliminate contributing causes. Some of the changes in the microbes’ environment could be locally managed, for example by reducing general pollution, cutting soil erosion into the sea which chokes the reefs, and avoiding harmful run-off from farming practices.”

A key factor newly identified by the Newcastle team is the role of surface mucus secreted by corals. This seems to act as a shield, preventing disease-causing pathogens such as bacteria and some viruses from penetrating their tissues.

“The reefs’ defensive mucus or slime is also at risk from stresses brought on by climate change. This seems to happen just at a time when some of the key functional microbe groups are changing, reducing the corals’ other defences and boosting some disease-causing bacteria, making them more virulent,” says Dr Bythell.

“If we want to protect and conserve these reefs for the future, we need to start acting now. And before we can do that we need a better understanding of the processes,” says Dr John Bythell. “The mass mortality of two of the dominant coral species in the Caribbean due to disease has been unprecedented in the last 3,000 years, which suggests a strong link to man-made activities.”

The Newcastle scientists are concerned that despite the clear relationship to underlying factors affecting the reefs which cause the diseases and bleaching, and the important role played by the microbes, microbiology and coral cellular biology are investigated largely independently by different groups of researchers using different approaches. According to Dr Bythell, scientists’ attempts to identify the underlying problems would be improved by combining molecular microbial techniques with coral cell and molecular approaches.

Lucy Goodchild | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.sgm.ac.uk

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Scientists produce a new roadmap for guiding development & conservation in the Amazon
09.12.2016 | Wildlife Conservation Society

nachricht Successful calculation of human and natural influence on cloud formation
04.11.2016 | Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main

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: Electron highway inside crystal

Physicists of the University of Würzburg have made an astonishing discovery in a specific type of topological insulators. The effect is due to the structure of the materials used. The researchers have now published their work in the journal Science.

Topological insulators are currently the hot topic in physics according to the newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung. Only a few weeks ago, their importance was...

Im Focus: Significantly more productivity in USP lasers

In recent years, lasers with ultrashort pulses (USP) down to the femtosecond range have become established on an industrial scale. They could advance some applications with the much-lauded “cold ablation” – if that meant they would then achieve more throughput. A new generation of process engineering that will address this issue in particular will be discussed at the “4th UKP Workshop – Ultrafast Laser Technology” in April 2017.

Even back in the 1990s, scientists were comparing materials processing with nanosecond, picosecond and femtosesecond pulses. The result was surprising:...

Im Focus: Shape matters when light meets atom

Mapping the interaction of a single atom with a single photon may inform design of quantum devices

Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...

Im Focus: Novel silicon etching technique crafts 3-D gradient refractive index micro-optics

A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.

Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...

Im Focus: Quantum Particles Form Droplets

In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.

“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ICTM Conference 2017: Production technology for turbomachine manufacturing of the future

16.11.2016 | Event News

Innovation Day Laser Technology – Laser Additive Manufacturing

01.11.2016 | Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

Researchers identify potentially druggable mutant p53 proteins that promote cancer growth

09.12.2016 | Life Sciences

Scientists produce a new roadmap for guiding development & conservation in the Amazon

09.12.2016 | Ecology, The Environment and Conservation

Satellites, airport visibility readings shed light on troops' exposure to air pollution

09.12.2016 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>