Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Sea cucumbers: Dissolving coral reefs?

23.12.2011
Coral reefs are extremely diverse ecosystems that support enormous biodiversity. But they are at risk. Carbon dioxide emissions are acidifying the ocean, threatening reefs and other marine organisms.

New research led by Carnegie's Kenneth Schneider analyzed the role of sea cucumbers in portions of the Great Barrier Reef and determined that their dietary process of dissolving calcium carbonate (CaCO3) from the surrounding reef accounts for about half of at the total nighttime dissolution for the reef. The work is published December 23 by the Journal of Geophysical Research.

Reefs are formed through the biological deposition of calcium carbonate (CaCO3). Many of the marine organisms living on and around a reef contribute to either its destruction or construction. Therefore it is crucial that the amount of calcium carbonate remain in balance. When this delicate balance is disrupted, the reef ceases to grow and its foundations can be weakened.

In order to fully understand a reef's ability to deposit carbonate and grow, it is necessary to understand the roles that the various elements of sea life play in this process. This is especially important because increased atmospheric carbon dioxide is predicted to decrease the amount of carbonate available due to acidification.

The research group set out to examine the role that sea cucumbers play in the reef environment.

Schneider's team included Carnegie's Ken Caldeira, as well as Jacob Silverman, of the Israeli Limnology and Oceanography Institute; Maria Byrne and Erika Woolsey, both of the University of Sydney and the latter also from James Cook University; and Hampus Eriksson of Stockholm University.

They studied the growth and dissolution of One Tree Reef, which surrounds One Tree Island in Australia's Great Barrier Reef. Focusing on an area of the reef known as "DK13", they found that sea cucumbers were abundant. They collected some of these sea cucumbers and placed them in aquaria to study the effect on sea water resulting from the sand and rubble transported through their gut system as part of their digestive process.

As part of another ongoing study in this area, the team found that the coral reef was dissolving at night. They found that sea cucumbers play a crucial part in this process. They live off the bits of organic matter in the carbonate sand and rubble that they ingest; in this process, their digestive systems produce acids that dissolve parts of these carbonate minerals. The dissolved carbonate minerals are then released into the surrounding environment. The researchers found that these lowly organisms might be responsible for half of the CaCO3 of the reef observed at night.

The burning of coal, oil, and gas releases CO2 into the atmosphere, which is later absorbed by the ocean, causing the ocean to acidify. Ocean acidification is expected to slow reef growth. With slower reef growth, the dissolution of CaCO3 within the guts of sea cucumbers is expected to become even more important to the reef CaCO3 budget.

"Even though the sea cucumbers dissolve CaCO3 on the reef, in a lagoon such as the one at One Tree Reef, where there is limited seawater exchange with the surrounding ocean, they can be important in recycling of nutrients to support primary productivity. They also increase sea water buffer capacity to partially offset ocean acidification effects, helping to maintain the overall health of the coral reef," Schneider said. "Although sea cucumbers may play a part in reef dissolution, they are also an important part of an incredible marine environment."

This research was supported by the Moore foundation. The authors thank the University of Sydney's One Tree Island Research Station facility.

The Department of Global Ecology was established in 2002 to help build the scientific foundations for a sustainable future. The department is located on the campus of Stanford University, but is an independent research organization funded by the Carnegie Institution. Its scientists conduct basic research on a wide range of large-scale environmental issues, including climate change, ocean acidification, biological invasions, and changes in biodiversity.

The Carnegie Institution for Science (carnegiescience.edu) is a private, nonprofit organization headquartered in Washington, D.C., with six research departments throughout the U.S. Since its founding in 1902, the Carnegie Institution has been a pioneering force in basic scientific research. Carnegie scientists are leaders in plant biology, developmental biology, astronomy, materials science, global ecology, and Earth and planetary science.

Kenneth Schneider | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.stanford.edu

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht New Measurement Device: Carbon Dioxide As Geothermometer
21.05.2019 | Universität Heidelberg

nachricht Cause for variability in Arctic sea ice clarified
14.05.2019 | Max-Planck-Institut für Meteorologie

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Self-repairing batteries

UTokyo engineers develop a way to create high-capacity long-life batteries

Engineers at the University of Tokyo continually pioneer new ways to improve battery technology. Professor Atsuo Yamada and his team recently developed a...

Im Focus: Quantum Cloud Computing with Self-Check

With a quantum coprocessor in the cloud, physicists from Innsbruck, Austria, open the door to the simulation of previously unsolvable problems in chemistry, materials research or high-energy physics. The research groups led by Rainer Blatt and Peter Zoller report in the journal Nature how they simulated particle physics phenomena on 20 quantum bits and how the quantum simulator self-verified the result for the first time.

Many scientists are currently working on investigating how quantum advantage can be exploited on hardware already available today. Three years ago, physicists...

Im Focus: Accelerating quantum technologies with materials processing at the atomic scale

'Quantum technologies' utilise the unique phenomena of quantum superposition and entanglement to encode and process information, with potentially profound benefits to a wide range of information technologies from communications to sensing and computing.

However a major challenge in developing these technologies is that the quantum phenomena are very fragile, and only a handful of physical systems have been...

Im Focus: A step towards probabilistic computing

Working group led by physicist Professor Ulrich Nowak at the University of Konstanz, in collaboration with a team of physicists from Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, demonstrates how skyrmions can be used for the computer concepts of the future

When it comes to performing a calculation destined to arrive at an exact result, humans are hopelessly inferior to the computer. In other areas, humans are...

Im Focus: Recording embryonic development

Scientists develop a molecular recording tool that enables in vivo lineage tracing of embryonic cells

The beginning of new life starts with a fascinating process: A single cell gives rise to progenitor cells that eventually differentiate into the three germ...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

SEMANTiCS 2019 brings together industry leaders and data scientists in Karlsruhe

29.04.2019 | Event News

Revered mathematicians and computer scientists converge with 200 young researchers in Heidelberg!

17.04.2019 | Event News

First dust conference in the Central Asian part of the earth’s dust belt

15.04.2019 | Event News

 
Latest News

Summit charts a course to uncover the origins of genetic diseases

22.05.2019 | Life Sciences

New study finds distinct microbes living next to corals

22.05.2019 | Life Sciences

Stellar waltz with dramatic ending

22.05.2019 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>