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

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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