Coral Metabolism and Climate Change

A team of Rosenstiel School researchers and alumni published a new study on the intra-and inter-specific variation of metabolic factors of corals in Florida. Their study is important to better understand if some coral will be more resilient than others to climate change.

“Knowing which coral species will be ‘winners’ on reefs of the future will help people be aware of what reefs might look like in the coming decades,” said UM Rosenstiel School alumna Erica Towle.

Mustard hill coral. Credit: Johnmartindavies/wikicommons

Mustard hill coral. Credit: Johnmartindavies/wikicommons

For the experiment, Towle and her team from the UM Corals and Climate Change Lab collected three common species of corals from the Florida Reef Tract, which extends from the Florida Keys to Stuart in Martin County, during two seasonal points (winter and summer).

The species mustard hill coral (Porites astreoides) great star coral (Montastraea cavernosa) and mountainous star coral (Orbicella faveolata) were analyzed for growth rate, lipid content, algal symbiont density, and chlorophyll content. The surface area of the corals were also measured using a 3-D scanner supplied by UM Alumnus Derek Manzello at the NOAA Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratories.

Great star coral. Credit NOAA

Great star coral. Credit NOAA

The team’s field data agreed with population-level trends that great star coral and mustard hill coral are doing well in the Florida Keys, and may be “winners” on reefs of the future. They point out that future work needed to understand factors driving resilience of “winner” species.

“It’s important for us to start to understand which corals will be dominant on reefs of the future so we can get a better sense of which species to focus stronger conservation efforts on,” said Towle.

regionalstudiesMSThe study, “In-situ measurement of metabolic status in three coral species from the Florida Reef Tract,” was published online in the journal Regional Studies in Marine Science. The work was supported by the NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program. The study’s authors include: Erica K. Towle; UM Rosenstiel School Professor Chris Landgon; and Renée Carlton and Derek P. Manzello of the NOAA Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratories.

Faculty Profile: Dr. Claire Paris

As an ocean scientist at the UM Rosenstiel School, Claire Paris spends days observing the movements of tiny fish larvae in a unique underwater drifting laboratory. She has developed scientific instruments to listen to, and observe these important, but often unnoticed, life forms on the reefs and in the open ocean. Another powerful component to her scientific approach is how she interacts with her research subjects underwater. Paris uses her talent as a certified freediver to minimize any human disturbance to her research subjects.

Claire Paris

Claire Paris

“The bubbles from SCUBA disturbs the pelagic environment,” said Paris, a native of South France who spent a lot of time in the ocean as a child. “Freediving makes you feel one with the environment and promotes a sense of peace and fulfillment.”

Paris, a Rosenstiel School alumna (M.S. ’87), is at the top of her game, both as a scientist and freediver. She has led numerous groundbreaking studies, including one that showed that reef fish larvae can smell the presence of coral reefs from as far as several kilometers offshore, and use this odor to find their way home. She also found that fish larvae communicate by emitting sounds.

She has developed unique scientific instruments and sophisticated computer models to predict how fish larvae, as well other planktonic organisms and pollutants are transported with the ocean currents. These tools were instrumental to help track the behavior of oil during the Deepwater Horizon blowout, and continue to be used to simulate the fate of oil, to predict oil spill impacts and to optimize the first response to future spills.

US Freediving Association Team

US Freediving Association Team

She is a member of the United States Freediving Association (USFA) and an AIDA* International-ranked freediver and was selected for Team USA for the Team World Championships in 2014 and for the Individuals World Championships in 2015. She holds a Performance Freediving International (PFI) certification. Claire’s goal is to promote AAUS (American Academy of Underwater Science) scientific freediving nation-wide with the UM Rosenstiel School as a frontrunner.

Finding her potential and having no fear to dive deeper makes her a better scientist, says Paris.

*AIDA: Association Internationale pour le Development de l’Apnee

Students Collaborate on One-of-a-kind Coral Bleaching Study

Thanks to an award from the Rosenstiel School’s Graduate Career Development Fund, a collaborative, graduate student-led research team has a one-of-a-kind opportunity to study how corals recover from mass bleaching events.

Five students – Jay Fisch, Erica Towle, Crawford Drury, Phil Kushlan and Rivah Winter – from three different labs across the Rosenstiel School campus have come together to design and execute a field study of an important reef-building coral, Orbicella faveolata, commonly known as Mountainous Star Coral, that suffered during the widespread coral bleaching event at Horseshoe Reef in the Florida Keys during the summer of 2014.

RSMAS graduate students: Phil Kushlan, Erica Towle, Crawford Drury, Jay Fisch, and Rivah Winter

RSMAS graduate students (from left to right): Phil Kushlan, Erica Towle, Crawford Drury, Jay Fisch, and Rivah Winter

Historic information previously collected at the site, combined with collections over the next year will allow the student team to study changes in coral symbiosis and metabolism and to measure individual colony response and recovery following a bleaching event. The research project will provide scientists with valuable new information on the relationship between recovery patterns and subsequent reproductive output.

“Recovery of reefs depends on both the recovery of the surviving individuals as well as the input of new individuals through reproduction,” said the students.

The students received a total of $3000 from the Graduate Career Development Fund. The students are Ph.D. candidates in Lirman’s Benthic Ecology Lab, Baker’s Coral Reef and Climate Change Lab and Langdon’s Coral and Climate Change Lab.

Rescue a Reef Update

130813_112247_054_CoralRestoration Coral reef with out planted stag horn corals.

It’s been over 2 years since Dr. Diego Lirman’s Benthic Ecology Lab at RSMAS began outplanting nursery reared staghorn corals (Acropora cervicornis) to degraded reefs as part of one of the largest Acropora restoration projects along the Florida Reef Tract. Today, those corals are making a significant impact on the structure and function of Miami’s reefs.

The University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science began growing colonies of the threatened staghorn coral in underwater nurseries starting with only 200 small fragments collected from existing wild colonies. To date, UM’s nurseries have produced over 6,000 healthy corals. Beginning in 2012, over 2,500 staghorn corals were carefully transplanted to their new homes on local reefs in Miami-Dade County. Over 85% of outplanted corals have survived to become part of the natural habitat and have grown to equal 243 meters of new staghorn! That is over 603% more coral than was originally outplanted! This is a significant increase in the number of Acropora colonies on local reefs and will help bridge spatial gaps between existing populations to enhance sexual reproduction and genetic diversity.The Benthic Ecology Lab has learned valuable lessons from their initial restoration success and has developed methods and techniques to increase the survival and growth of outplanted corals. In addition, important informtion about nursery and outplant site selection, growth and productivity variation between genotypes, effects of predation, and recovery from bleaching have been investigated to provide researchers and managers with essential conservation tools for the recovery of threatened staghorn corals.

–Stephanie Schopmeyer, Senior Research Associate II, Lirman Lab

N In Plot 3 P46 Initial size of staghorn coral fragment outplanted in 2012 (5 cm)

IMG_1360-1 Growth of staghorn coral two years after outplanting onto local reef (390 cm)

UM coral scientist studies at Centre Scientifique de Monaco

As I write this blog, I am looking out the window at the famous Port Hercule in Monaco and see all of the beautiful yachts and racing sailboats.  And the best part is – I’m in my office!  Allow me to back-track: I am a 5th year Ph.D. candidate in Dr. Chris Langdon’s lab here at RSMAS.  I study indicators of resilience to climate change stressors in Florida Reef Tract corals.  Two years ago I met Dr. Christine Ferrier-Pages at the International Coral Reef Symposium.  Christine is the director of the Coral Eco-physiology team at the Centre Scientifique de Monaco (CSM), and I have admired her work on coral feeding for years.  By maintaining contact with her after we met at the conference, and through another colleague of Chris Langdon’s at a French university, I was offered the opportunity to participate in a seven-week collaboration in Christine’s lab in Monaco.  Together, we are studying the combined effects of nutrient enrichment (eutrophication), coral feeding, and elevated temperature stress on coral growth and physiology.  The lab facilities here are unparalleled, and it is truly an honor and a privilege for me to complete the last chapter of my dissertation at this institution.

View of Port Hercule in Monaco

View of Port Hercule in Monaco

Here’s a little history about CSM: it was founded in 1960 at the request of Prince Rainier III, Prince of Monaco, to provide the Principality of Monaco with the means of carrying out oceanographic research and to support governmental and international organizations responsible for the protection and conservation of marine life.  Since the late 1990s, the CSM has been a leader in coral reef biology, specializing in biomineralization research and climate change effects on corals.  The ocean and the issues surrounding it have always been on the forefront of causes important to the royal family of Monaco.  In addition to the CSM, Monaco also boasts an extensive oceanography museum and aquarium which draws international attention.

So what has it been like to work here so far?  One thing I have found a little challenging is learning to run an experiment in another language.  While most of the researchers here speak English (their publications are normally submitted in English,) French is their native language and is most commonly spoken in the lab.  I speak conversational French pretty well, but I have to learn basic experiment terms in French; words like tubes, flow rate, and probe, to name a few, were all new to me in the French language.

For now, my post-work view is the Mediterranean Sea, but I know in a few weeks a sunset view overlooking Biscayne Bay from the Wetlab patio will be calling my name…

Until then,

Erica Towle, Ph.D. Candidate, Marine Biology and Ecology

 

Connecting Fish and Corals

A new study by UM Rosenstiel School researchers tracked the dispersal of coral and fish larvae on Caribbean reefs and found that fish populations are generally a more interconnected, cohesive unit on reefs than coral populations, with a few exceptions. The UM Rosenstiel School-led study is the first-of-its-kind to use a numerical modeling approach to address connectivity – the exchange of offspring and larvae between geographically disconnected populations – for multiple species with very different life histories.

Trunkfish in the Dry Tortugas. Photo Credit: Jiangang Luo/ UM RSMAS

Trunkfish in the Dry Tortugas. Photo Credit: Jiangang Luo/ UM RSMAS

Understanding connectivity is important for the management of species and networks of marine protected areas. Connectivity enhances resilience of the ecosystem to harmful events, such as bleaching, overfishing and hurricanes, by providing new recruits from distant locations to the damaged reefs.

“The study was motivated by the complexity of conservation efficacy for coral reef ecosystems that are composed of so many different species,” said Rosenstiel School Professor Claire Paris, corresponding author of the paper. “Larval connectivity models contribute valuable information for the protection of marine habitats, especially as the potential for further reef fragmentation and other physical changes to the environment alter both the habitat and the biology of coral reef organisms and their larvae.”

Using the Connectivity Modeling System (CMS), a Rosenstiel School open source numerical model developed in Paris lab, the study tracked larval exchange between more than 3,200 reef areas in the Caribbean for five different species of fish and coral over a five-year period. The researchers found that fish populations are generally more connected than coral populations, with the exception of reef-building corals, which share similar connectivity dynamics for some specific Caribbean regions. For these regions that were identified thanks to high-computing techniques, management can be similar for all species and reef conservation may rely on regional connectivity networks.  This is not the case for other regions that require more species-specific management practices, typically at more local levels as well.

Elkhorn Coral  Photo Credit: NOAA

Elkhorn Coral
Photo Credit: NOAA

The study was published as a Special Feature article in the March 3, 2014 issue of the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series. The paper’s authors include: UM alumni Daniel Holstein, currently a post-doctoral research associate at the University of the Virgin Islands’ Center for Marine and Environmental Studies, and well-known reef ecologist Peter Mumby.