1

People and ecosystems

Understanding of the links between coral reef ecosystems, the goods and services they provide to people, and the wellbeing of human societies.

2

Ecosystem dynamics: past, present and future

Examining the multi-scale dynamics of reefs, from population dynamics to macroevolution

3

Responding to a changing world

Advancing the fundamental understanding of the key processes underpinning reef resilience.

Coral Bleaching

Coral Bleaching

Coral Reef Studies

ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies
James Cook University Townsville
Queensland 4811 Australia

Phone: 61 7 4781 4000
Email: info@coralcoe.org.au

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A new book exploring the best scientific research on preventing coral-eating Crown-Of-Thorns Starfish (COTS) outbreaks, is expected to become a critical resource for informing management of these outbreaks across the Indo-Pacific.

The book “Biology, Ecology and Management of Crown-of-Thorns Starfish” is the latest authoritative work across 30 years of COTS research. Comprised of 18 new research papers and reviews, the book highlights both significant scientific advances and emerging opportunities for targeted research.

World-renowned experts, Professor Morgan Pratchett of ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University and Dr Sven Uthicke of the Australian Institute of Marine Science are the co-editors of the special edition, open access book.

Prof Pratchett’s research over the past two decades has contributed significantly to understanding the causes and consequences of outbreaks.

He describes COTS outbreaks as `akin to locusts’ and said there was still much to learn.

“Outbreaks occur on many reefs throughout the Indo-Pacific, including the Great Barrier Reef, and contribute to the widespread degradation of these valuable ecosystems,” Prof Pratchett said.

“Despite significant research on the biology and ecology of COTS, there are still some considerable knowledge gaps and opportunities for important discoveries.

“More than a thousand research papers have been written about these animals, reflecting the ecological impact and management concern surrounding COTS outbreaks.”

Dr Uthicke, a biologist and geneticist, is focussed on the development of new genetic tools (eDNA) to gain insights into the early life-history of COTS.

He said researchers needed to embrace new technologies and opportunities to advance our understanding of COTS biology and behaviour.

“We must focus on key questions that will improve management effectiveness in reducing the frequency and likelihood of outbreaks, if not preventing them altogether,” Dr Uthicke said.

“There is still a lot we do not know about these starfish and effective management is conditional upon improved knowledge of their biology, especially during the very early life stages, when the starfish are extremely small and very cryptic.”

The Special Issue “Biology, Ecology and Management of Crown-of-Thorns Starfish” is published in the journal Diversity and now available open access with MDPI books.

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Media Enquiries

Prof Morgan Pratchett
ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University
Phone: +44 7400 850 767 (GMT +1), overseas from 22 December to 9 January
Email: morgan.pratchett@jcu.edu.au

Catherine Naum
Communications Manager
ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University
Phone: +61 0428 785 895 or +61 07 4781 6067 (GMT +10)
Email: catherine.naum1@jcu.edu.au

While the threat of coral bleaching as a result of climate change poses a serious risk to the future of coral reefs world wide, new research has found that some baby corals may be able to cope with the negative effects of ocean acidification.

Ocean acidification, which is a direct consequence of increased atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, is expected to have a deleterious effect on many marine species over the next century.

An international team examining the impact of ocean acidification on coral has found that a key reef-building coral can, over a relatively short period of time, acclimate to a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide levels.

“Our aim was to explore the effect of a more acidic ocean on every gene in the coral genome,” says study lead author Dr Aurelie Moya, a molecular ecologist with the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University.

The researchers exposed baby corals from the Great Barrier Reef to acidified seawater for varying lengths of time and investigated how they responded at a molecular level.

“We found that, whereas 3 days of exposure to high CO2 disrupts formation of the coral skeleton, within nine days the baby corals had re-adjusted their gene expression to pre-exposure levels. Longer exposure seems to be less detrimental to coral health than we had assumed based on shorter-term studies,” Dr Aurelie Moya says.

“These findings suggest that baby corals have the capacity to acclimate to elevated carbon dioxide.”

“We saw that within a few days juvenile coral adapted to CO2 levels double those experienced today with no obvious disruption to its life processes,” says study co-author, Professor David Miller, who leads the molecular biology group in the Coral CoE.

Professor Miller says the findings are particularly significant as they centred on staghorn coral.

“Staghorn corals are the key reef-building corals throughout the Pacific and Indian oceans. These are traditionally considered to have poor stress tolerance. So this work provides a glimmer of hope that coral reefs can attenuate the effects of ocean acidification.”

The research team examined tens of thousands of coral genes and was able to identify those that were responsible for enabling acclimation to high carbon dioxide.

Dr Moya says the study is an essential first step to better understand how reef-building corals adapt to environmental stress.

However both Dr Moya and Professor Miller remain cautious about the ability of corals to tolerate the combination of increased carbon dioxide and climate change.

“This study focused on one single stressor, ocean acidification, but we must keep in mind that the combination of several stressors, such as ocean acidification and warming could lead to larger impacts on baby corals,” Dr Moya says.

“The next step is to investigate the effect of combined stressors on corals’ gene expression.”

 

Paper

Rapid acclimation of juvenile corals to CO2-mediated acidification by up-regulation of HSP and Bcl-2 genes by Aurelie Moya, Lotte Huisman, Sylvain Foret, Jean-Pierre Gattuso, David Hayward, Eldon Ball and David Miller is published in the journal, Molecular Ecology.

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/mec.13021/abstract

Images

Corals – image credit: Aurelie Moya

Contacts

Dr Aurelie Moya – +61 (0) 7 4781 3654

aurelie.moya@jcu.edu.au

Professor David Miller – +61 (0) 419 671 768

david.miller@jcu.edu.au

Eleanor Gregory, Coral CoE Communications Manager – 0428 785 895

eleanor.gregory@jcu.edu.au

Using the corals on the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) as a history book, researchers have linked land use along the coast to decades of declining water quality and poor coral health.

Their work is pioneering the development of new tools for better management of the quality of Australia’s coastal waters by the communities that depend on them.

The reefs at Keswick Island, ~30 km from the Pioneer River mouth, are covered with large stands of macroalgae.

The study by researchers from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (CoECRS) focuses on the hundred-year history of coastal development around the Queensland town of Mackay and its impact on nearby coral reefs which have been gradually disappearing.

According to the study there a history of land clearing, agriculture and flooding is linked to nutrient rich waters flowing out of the Pioneer River catchment.

These excess nutrients are directly taken up by coastal corals, affecting their survival and ability to recover from adverse conditions.

“We found that the nitrogen isotopes from particles in water samples collected all along the catchment area were highly enriched, especially in the lower reaches of the river. This reflects nitrogen from fertilisers,” said Dr Guy Marion of The University of Queensland and CoECRS.

Dr Stacy Jupiter, a postdoctoral fellow at the Australian National University (ANU) and CoECRS said inshore reefs were covered in widespread stands of algae, a condition that may reflect chronic nutrient excess.

“The reef condition didn’t improve until 50 kilometres offshore,” Dr Jupiter said.

Dr Jupiter said while the study is local, its findings have national and even global significance.

The study also uses coral skeletons to reveal the history of nutrient and sediment runoff into the river and coastal waters from human activities in the catchment dating back to European settlement of the Mackay area.

Using coral skeletons more than a century old, the team was able to analyse chemicals and sediments taken up by the corals and link them geochemically to their place and time of origin.

“We observed a large increase in the delivery of land-based sediments after the surrounding areas were cleared for farming in the late 19th century,” said Dr Marion.

“After World War II, when fertilisers were used to increase sugar cane production, the coral records reveal substantial accumulations of fertilizer-derived nutrients in near-shore GBR waters.”

“This is a global issue because development is taking place in coastal areas all over Australia and around the world.

“This is the first time corals have been used to trace the history and origin of nutrients in the marine environment and link changes in water quality back to changes taking place on the land.”

The study’s findings will be presented at the Mackay Linkage Grant Workshop meeting held at the Mackay Botanical Gardens on the Friday, June 1.

The meeting, which is open to the public and media, will feature leading researchers from CoECRS, the University of Queensland and the ANU, as well as representatives from local, regional and federal management agencies.

“We hope we have increased the available information for assisting in the better management of coastal land as well as identifying significant environmental risks for the Great Barrier Reef,” said UQ’s Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, who was one of the project’s chief investigators.

“The changes indicate that this is something that we should all be paying serious attention to.

“We hope to create discussion between the stakeholders, the scientists and the public so these results can be used to better manage the area.”

The meeting will highlight the “four-pronged” approach taken in the investigation into the history of changes in the land and the decline in water quality.

These comprise the history of development and clearing since pioneer settlement in the area; the chemical composition of water from points along the river and out to sea; the chemical composition of coral skeletons dating back before European settlement; and the varying health of coral communities extending from the mouth of the river to far out to sea.

This approach can easily be replicated in other coastal environments in Australian and around the world,” Professor Hoegh-Guldberg said.

“There is potential to use these tools to manage our coastal environments and water quality right round Australia and even worldwide,” said Dr Jupiter.

“The impact on our long-term understanding of change in Australia’s coastal areas is highly significant.”

Public research forum: The Mackay Linkage Grant Workshop, where CoECRS researchers will report on their findings, will be held in at the Mackay Botanical Gardens on Friday, June 1, 2007 from 8.30am-5pm.

The meeting will include presentations by Stacy Jupiter and Guy Marion on their findings. Media and public are welcome to attend.
Media inquiries:
Stacy Jupiter, ANU; CoECRS, (+61 2 6125 9477, +61 0415 191 425)
Guy Marion, UQ; CoECRS, (+61 7 5521 0697)
Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, UQ; CoECRS, (+61 7 3365 1156)
Jenny Lappin, CoECRS, (+61 7 4781 4222)
https://www.coralcoe.org.au/testsite/testsite/

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Coral Reef Studies

ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies
James Cook University Townsville
Queensland 4811 Australia

Phone: 61 7 4781 4000
Email: info@coralcoe.org.au