Tropical coral reefs are the most biodiverse habitats on the planet. They are also highly productive, although the regions of the oceans they live in have extremely low levels of nutrients. Until now, this so-called “reef paradox” has baffled scientists. In an international journal publication, Bremen Marine researchers have now put forward a plausible explanation for this puzzling contradiction.
A team of international researchers led by Prof. Dr. Christian Wild from University of Bremen’s faculty of Biology & Chemistry recently made the following surprising discovery: It transpires that the conversion of nitrogen, or nitrogen fixation, by micro-organisms that are associated with corals clearly in turn supports the conversion of carbon, or carbon fixation, by the micro-algae in the coral tissue. This is one of the main findings of the Bremen study that has now been published in the renowned journal “Proceedings of the Royal Society”.
One of the investigated coral colonies (species: Stylophora pistillata) with erected polyp tentacles at night
Foto: Dr. Ulisse Cardini
Although corals are animals, so-called cnidarians, they host such a lot of micro-algae and other micro-organisms like bacteria in their tissue that they develop their own micro-ecosystems and are classified as holobionts. With the aid of their tiny co-inhabitants, coral holobionts are capable of carrying out processes thoroughly untypical of animals.
Carbon fixation by means of the photosynthesis of micro-algae is especially important for the productivity of corals: What happens is that carbon dioxide is converted into organic material with the aid of light energy. Thanks to this process, corals are able to grow at extremely fast rates, creating not only new habitats, but also nourishment for other organisms. Coral holobionts carry out carbon fixation with extraordinary intensity – and they do this although they dispose of almost no nitrogen with which to produce biomass.
How does the paradox come about?
Could parallel processes, especially nitrogen fixation by bacteria and carbon fixation by micro-algae, possibly be playing a role here? This is the unorthodox hypothesis that has engaged the attention of Bremen marine researcher Professor Christian Wild for a very long time.
Funded by the German Research Foundation, he and his team of PhD students – in particular the Italian early-career researcher and lead author of the study, Ulisse Cardini – and other colleagues set out to research the interrelation between carbon and nitrogen fixation by corals.
The team examined these processes in all the dominant hard corals found on a coral reef in the northern region of the Red Sea in Jordan. They carried out their research during several lengthy expeditions in all four seasons of the year 2013. They chose this location for their research because of its high seasonality: That is the pronounced natural fluctuation in nutrient concentrations contained in the water across the seasons.
Somewhat to their surprise, they discovered that carbon fixation was highly constant for all corals throughout the whole year. This was true even in the summer months when nutrient concentrations are especially low. The key to answering this puzzle, they found, clearly lies in the process of nitrogen fixation by micro-organisms that inhabit the coral. The large number of measurements they took showed that in summer this process was about tenfold more intense than at other times of the year.
A major finding of the study is that the process of nitrogen fixation by micro-organisms compensates for the extreme nitrogen limitation of the summer months. Thus, processes by bacteria support the processes by micro-algae in the coral tissue so that in the end there is a beneficial effect not only for the coral but also for the whole reef. The study showed that corals are good examples of animals, humans included, where beneficial internal microbes fulfill roles important for the health of the host organisms.
The article by Cardini et al. breaks new scientific ground in several respects. It is now clear how the individual processes carried out by the different coral inhabitants are intertwined. And it furthermore reveals that the important role micro-organisms play in these interrelations has until now been underestimated. The international research team around University of Bremen Professor Christian Wild and his research associate Dr. Ulisse Cardini have delivered an important new explanation for the Darwinian reef paradox.
You can obtain more information on this topic by contacting:
University of Bremen
Faculty Biology / Chemistry
Prof. Dr. Christian Wild
Phone. 0421 218 63387
Dr. Ulisse Cardini
Division of Microbial Ecology
Department of Microbiology and Ecosystem Science
Research Network "Chemistry meets Microbiology"
University of Vienna, Althanstr. 14, 1090 Vienna (AT)
Telefon: +43 677 61633148
Eberhard Scholz | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft
Ion treatments for cardiac arrhythmia — Non-invasive alternative to catheter-based surgery
20.01.2017 | GSI Helmholtzzentrum für Schwerionenforschung GmbH
Seeking structure with metagenome sequences
20.01.2017 | DOE/Joint Genome Institute
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