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Coral reefs are significant ecosystems in the world’s oceans. They are threatened by anthropogenic effects that cause “bleaching.”
Research has identified fluoroproteins, which bio-fluoresce as early indicators of coral health. Fluorescence expression differs when stressed by temperature and light. This project will expand fluorescence research by investigating novel variables such as pH and salinity, nitrates, and phosphates.
Symbiodinium is an algae that lives within coral tissues. When stressed, they vacate, causing bleaching. This project also explores the theory that fluorescence is a visual cue to attract Symbiodinium.
Bleaching, first observed in the 1980s, is increasing. Reefs are a vital ecosystem, providing shelter to 25% of all marine life. Studies are underway worldwide to gather data on the variables that cause bleaching, and developing strategies to mitigate the death of corals from bleaching. Using the resources of the Oklahoma Aquarium, this research utilizes controlled coral populations in conditions controlled more rigorously than in the field.
By testing fluoroprotein emissions after exposure to novel variables, we hope to identify a stress marker prior to bleaching.
Identifying a correlation between fluorescence and rate of re-colonization of symbiodinium would fill a significant gap in the literature, and assist in identifying corals for re-seeding.
Experimental stress trials are conducted at the Oklahoma Aquarium on a minimum of four coral species with 15 independent samples to determine which variables stress the corals and if there is a correlation with fluorescence emission. We study the effects of rising water temperature, increased irradiance, salinity and pH, and levels of nitrates and phosphates that are outside of the normal range for coral.
Following that assessment, water in coral tanks will be cultured with Symbiodinium to measure the speed and quantity of uptake of symbiotic algae. Using data gathered from this battery of experiments, we hope to identify hardier species and combinations of corals and Symbiodinium. These can be used to “seed” ocean coral using aquaria grown coral.