Research Projects

Coral Nutrition

PIs: D. Lirman (UM), Mark Teece (SUNY)

  • The vulnerability of corals to disturbance can be influenced by their energetic status.

  • The ability of corals to switch their main feeding mode, from autotrophy to heterotrophy, under marginal conditions marginal (i.e., high turbidity, sedimentation, high nutrients) can provide an adaptive mechanism for sustained growth of corals exposed to multiple stressors.

  • The objectives of this project are to document: (1) the relative contribution of autotrophic and heterotrophic sources of nutrition and the nutritional status of corals under different environmental conditions; and (2) the role of nutritional sources and status on coral growth and survivorship.

  • Main Hypothesis: “Inshore habitats may provide an enhanced nutritional environment where corals can supplement autotrophic sources of nutrition with heterotrophic sources.”

  • This will be tested using a combination of field collections, reciprocal field transplants, and microcosm experiments using corals with diverse life-history strategies (i.e., broadcasters, brooders) and the application of molecular-level biochemical and stable isotopic techniques

coral chips

Results to date indicate that:

  1. Inshore reefs are good “growth” environments, providing enhanced nutritional sources compared to offshore reef habitats

  2. Corals from nearshore patch reefs derive up to 60% of their energy needs from heterotrophic feeding on zooplankton, whereas corals from offshore reefs obtain almost 100% of their energy needs from their symbionts for energy

  3. In reciprocal transplants, corals transplanted from offshore to inshore habitats switch their feeding behavior and increase their heterotrophic feeding

Funding for this projects is provided by:

MOTE
Protect Our Reefs
NOAA
UNC Wilmington