Corals in crisis: How temperature and nutrient fluctuations affect physiological responses of corals and their microbiome in Kāne’ohe Bay, Hawai’i




Ruben, Zoe
Pinnell, Lee
Abdulla, Hussain
Turner, Jeffrey
Bahr, Keisha

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Coral reefs are the foundation to the social, cultural, and economic life in Hawai i; however, these reefs have not escaped the conditions that have ravaged coral reefs worldwide. Along the east coast of O ahu lies Kāne ohe Bay, which serves as a living laboratory with distinct difference in environmental gradients due to variation in circulation and residency times. Landward, there is a distinct gradient of cesspool presence and therefore a gradient of potential effluent intrusion and nutrient loading to these reefs. Together, these provide a unique opportunity to explore the impact of water quality and ongoing ocean warming on coral health, susceptibility and tolerance. This research investigates how temperature and nutrients influence the coral holobiont across a spatial and temporal environmental gradient. Pairs of known bleached/non-bleached corals were collected at two sites within Kāne ohe Bay which encompass this spatial gradient in temperature and nutrient influence. Corals were then subjected to experimental treatments (Control, Nutrient, Heated, Heated + Nutrient) for one month. Measurements of bleaching were collected at the beginning, middle, and end of the experiment and coral subsamples were collected at the beginning and end of the experiment for subsequent metagenomics analysis. I hypothesize that (A) coral subjected to a combined increase in temperature and nutrients will experience higher levels of bleaching and lower levels of survivorship, (B) historically non-bleached phenotypes will show higher levels of survivorship than their historically bleached counterparts, and (C) there will be an observed shift in microbial community composition across corals due to these stressors. If validated, these findings will support that coral bleaching susceptibility is manifested throughout the coral holobiont and the physiological response to stressors such as temperature and nutrient loading can be better understood and potentially mitigated, therefore supporting reef resiliency and restoration in the face of climate change.



zooxanthellae, gene sequencing, symbiosis



Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International