TAU Researchers Discover Soft Coral Tissue may Help Protect Reefs Against the Hazardous Effects of Climate Change
Coral reefs are home to a rich and diverse ecosystem, providing a habitat for a wide range of marine animals. But the increasing acidification of ocean water is jeopardizing the calcified foundations of these reefs, endangering the survival of thousands upon thousands of resident species.
New research by Prof. Yehuda Benayahu, Dr. Zehava Barkay, Prof. Maoz Fine, and their jointly supervised graduate student Yasmin Gabay of Tel Aviv University's Department of Zoology, Wolfson Applied Materials Research Center and the Interuniversity Institute for Marine Sciences in Eilat has uncovered the protective properties of soft coral tissue, which proved resilient when exposed to declining oceanic pH levels. The study, published in PLOS One, provides insight into the changing face of coral reefs threatened by dropping oceanic pH levels and may provide a new approach toward preserving the harder, calcified reef foundations.
Reefs and environmental change
Acidification is caused by increased carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere due to global change, fossil fuel burning, and other pollution. These emissions dissolve in the ocean, resulting in a slight lowering of oceanic pH levels. This produces changes to ocean water's carbon content, destroying the calcification of reef-building stony coral.
"The rise in temperature and ocean acidification are the main concerns of environmental change," said Prof. Benayahu, the Israel Cohen Chair in Environmental Zoology, whose TAU laboratory is home to one of the world's only soft coral (octocoral) research centers. "We know the value of reefs, the massive calcium carbonate constructions that act as wave breakers, and protect against floods, erosion, hurricanes, and typhoons. While alive, they provide habitats for thousands of living organisms, from sea urchins to clams, algae to fish. Reefs are also economically important in regions like Eilat or the Caribbean."
At first, the researchers examined the effects of lowered pH levels on living colonies of soft corals. Observing no significant effects on their physiology, Gabay thought it would be interesting to consider the effects of acidification on the skeleton of these soft corals.
"We really wanted to know if something could survive dropping pH levels in the future," said Gabay. "I was curious as to whether coral tissue could protect the inner coral skeleton, which is of most use in terms of reef construction, so I conducted an experiment using live soft corals and soft coral skeletons, which were placed in tanks containing ocean water with manipulated pH levels."
Using state-of-the-art microscopy, Gabay then scanned the tissue-covered skeletons and bare skeletons of soft corals exposed to experimental acidic conditions, the same conditions the International Panel of Climate Change predicts will occur 100 years from now if carbon dioxide emissions continue to rise. She found that the bare soft coral skeletons exhibited acidic stressed symptoms — large pockets burned into their microscopic corpuscular subunits — whereas the tissue-covered skeleton revealed almost no damage to its microscopic subunits.
"We found that the soft coral's tissue may indeed protect the skeleton from declining pH levels," said Yasmin Gabay. "The organism's internal environment apparently has a mechanism that protects against the acidic conditions."
The future of "the orchestra"
According to Prof. Benayahu, the future of soft-coral reefs is still unclear. Soft corals are not primary reef builders, because their skeletons are slow to calcify. Stony corals provide the massive skeletons that create reefs. Soft corals are replacing these reef builders, because they are somehow able to survive and live under extreme environmental conditions.
"A reef is like an orchestra. Many organisms interact to create harmony," said Prof. Benayahu. "Thousands of species live together and create life together. It is hard to predict what will happen if only soft corals survive, because they simply do not calcify at same rate as stony corals."
The researchers are currently studying the potential effects of soft coral displacement of stony coral species and the subsequent ramifications for reefs.
Earthquake Acoustics can Indicate if a M
Rutgers Findings May Predict the Future
NSU President Teaches Underwater Lesson
Marine Research Can Solve Some of Europe
Drones Open Way to New World of Coral Re
New Study Suggests Coral Reefs May be ab
NOAA: Coastal Ocean Aquaculture can be E
Coral Reefs in Palau Surprisingly Resist
Is There an Ocean Beneath our Feet?
The Clean Our Ocean’s Refuge Coalition A
The Coral Whisperer from Franconia
Coral Reefs Provide Protection from Stor
DNA Testing to Help Save Corals
A Snapshot of our Nation’s Scientific Oc
University of Miami Scientists Mobilize
The Quest to Save Coral
NSU Oceanographic Students Start Crowdso
From Despair to Repair: Dramatic Decline
NOAA lists 20 coral species as threatene
The Future Is Now: Navy’s Autonomous Swa
Autonomous Technology Could Save Offshor
Femme 2015 Multibeam User Conference Sav
Ultrasound is Part of Our Daily Lives an
Scientists on NOAA-led Mission Discover
Roadmap to Recovery to Inform Coral Reef
First Successful Lab Breeding of Rare Ca
A Revolutionary Survival Platform from S
Climate Engineering May Save Coral Reefs
Coral Bleaching Threat Increasing in Wes
Team of Leading Environmental and Aerosp
New Study from Florida Tech Finds Pacifi
Ocean Acidification Shakes the Foundatio
Nova Southeastern University Receives Gr
DNV GL Launches Two New JIPs with Potent
Can a Lobster be an Archaeologist? SUT t
K-Tower Data Gives Clues to Coral Growth
Our Ocean Future – Our Ocean Economy: Su
Unique Partnership Allows for Further Re
NOAA Declares Third Ever Global Coral Bl
Marine Mathematics Helps to Map Undiscov
Mote Takes Next Step in Expanding Its In
Tayport Company to Feature in Documentar
IUCN and UNESCO Explore how World Herita
El Niño Warming Causes Significant Coral
NOAA Awards More Than $8 Million for Cor
Greenhouse Gas Can Escape the Deep Ocean
Digitizing the Coral Reef: You Can Only
NASA's CORAL Campaign Will Raise Reef St
Boeing Unmanned Undersea Vehicle Can Ope
Coral on a Chip Cracks Coral Mysteries
The Ocean`s Twilight Zone can Feed the W
Protecting Coral Reefs with Bubbles
El Niño’s Warm Water Devastates Coral Re
Extensive Coral Communities Found in Ala
Rich Coral Communities Discovered in Pal
WWII Bombs Provide Living Laboratories f
Can Underwater Drones Gather Data Cheape
Stanford Scientists Discover Coral Reef
Corilla Marine Helps Save Kenya’s Fragil
NOAA Awards $9.3 Million to Advance Cora
A New Three-Year NASA Field Expedition t
Exploring Our Changing Earth, in Real Ti
Plastic Is Suffocating Our Oceans, Time
Global First in Marine Telemedicine - In
New Study Shows Red Tides Can Be Predict
Dead Zones May Threaten Coral Reefs Worl
NASA Provide New Insights into 'Ocean Wo
Arnold Schwarzenegger Teams Up with Jean
Fish Social Lives May Be Key to Saving C
Sea Floor Erosion in Coral Reef Ecosyste
A Brave New World for Coral Reefs
Scientists and Astronauts Creates World'
What Does It Take to Get Permits for a 1
FSU Researcher Makes Deep-Sea Coral Reef
18th Century Nautical Charts Reveals Cor
Improved Monitoring of Coral Reefs with
RINA to Support Eni’s Coral South FLNG P
Photomosaic Technology to Find Order in
Eni Achieves Financial Close for Coral S
Marine Organisms Can Shred Plastic Bags
Scientists Get Early Look at Hurricane D
Teledyne Oil & Gas Releases CAN Bus Acti
Coral Reefs May Be at Risk from Sanchi O
Innovative Restoration of Coral Reefs He
This Soft Robotic Fish Swims Alongside R
New Control Methods Can Help Protect Cor
Coral Reefs Protects Coasts from Severe
Transparent Eel-Like Soft Robot Can Swim
XPRIZE Turns to the Crowd to Save Coral
Scientists Discover Coral 'Oases' Where
Lloyd’s Register Supports Coral South FL
Turbine Refurbish Contract Expected to S
Alvin Makes an Exciting Coral Discovery
Can Artificial Intelligence Keep the Oil
New Soft Coral Species Discovered in Pan
130-Year-Old Brain Coral Reveals Encoura
Florida's Coral Reefs Provide Window int
Testing an Undersea Robot That Can Detec
Wave Energy Converter Gets Tested at WET
NOAA Awards Over $8.3 million to Advance