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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An international team of researchers has mapped Nemo’s genome, providing the research community with an invaluable resource to decode the response of fish to environmental changes, including climate change.

In a breakthrough study led by the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (Coral CoE), researchers used high-tech sequencing tools to create one of the most complete genetic maps for the orange clownfish, a common reef inhabitant and star of the Disney movie, Finding Nemo.

“This genome provides an essential blueprint for understanding every aspect of the reef fish’s biology,” said lead author Dr Robert Lehmann of KAUST in Saudi Arabia.

“It contains 26,597 protein coding genes. And like the world’s largest jigsaw puzzle, it took patience and time to assemble.”

The orange clownfish, Amphiprion percula, is not only the most recognized reef fish on Earth, but also one of the most highly studied.

“This species has been central to ground-breaking research in the ecological, environmental and evolutionary aspects of reef fishes,” said co-author Professor Philip Munday of Coral CoE at James Cook University in Australia.

“For example, the clownfish is a model for studying sex change in fishes. It has also helped us understand patterns of larval dispersal in reef fishes and it’s the first fish species for which it was demonstrated that predator avoidance behaviour could be impaired by ocean acidification.”

The team used state-of-the-art technology to sequence the clownfish’s genome. Their genomic and transcriptomic data is now available via the Nemo Genome DB database.

“The clownfish comprises approximately 939 million nucleotides that needed to be fit together,” said co-author Professor Timothy Ravasi of KAUST.

“This is an extremely valuable resource for the research community and will further establish the orange clownfish as an ideal lab subject for genetics and genomic studies.”

“This is one of the most complete fish genomes ever produced,” said co-author Professor David Miller of Coral CoE at James Cook University.

“Using the PacBio single molecule, real-time sequencing technology, enabled us to achieve a polished result.”

The paper “Finding Nemo’s Genes: A chromosome-scale reference assembly of the genome of the organge clownfish, Amhiprion percula” is published today in the journal Molecular Ecology Resources.

Images available here.

 

This research is dedicated to the memory of Dr Sylvain Forêt, a brilliant scientist, co-author, colleague and friend. (Tribute, pg. 10)

 

Citation: Lehmann, R, Lightfoot, D.J., Schunter, C., Mitchell, C.T., Ohyanagi, Mineta, K., Foret, S., Berumen, M.L., Miller, D.J., Aranda, M., Gojobori, T., Munday, P.L., and Ravasi, T. (2018) Finding Nemo’s Genes: A chromosome-scale reference assembly of the genome of the orange clownfish Amphiprion percula. Molecular Ecology Resources

 

CONTACTS

AUSTRALIA

Prof Philip Munday

Coral CoE

P: +61 (0) 0408 714 794, +61 (0)7 4781 5341 (AEST/ GMT +10)

E: philip.munday@jcu.edu.au

 

SAUDI ARABIA

Dr Robert Lehmann

KAUST (AST/ GMT +3)

E: robert.lehman@kaust.edu.sa

 

Prof Timothy Ravasi

KAUST

P: +61 (0) 491333697 (PDT/ GMT -7)

E: timothy.ravasi@kaust.edu.sa

 

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Catherine Naum

Communications Manager

ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies

P: +61 (0) 0428 785 895, +61 (0)7 4781 6067 (AEST/ GMT +10)

E: Catherine.Naum1@jcu.edu.au

 

Michelle Ponto

Communications – Editorial and Global Media Manager

King Abdullah University of Science and Technology

P: +966 (54) 470 1668 (AST/ GMT +3)

E: michelle.ponto@kaust.edu.sa

 

 

 

Scientists from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (Coral CoE) at The University of Western Australia (UWA) have found that some corals are able to combat the effects of ocean acidification by controlling their own chemistry.

Coral reefs play an important role in protecting coastlines from damage caused by waves and storms, but also provide habitat and shelter for many marine organisms. However, major environmental challenges such as climate change, threaten the survival of coral reefs worldwide.

The world-first study is a breakthrough for marine science because the scientists have identified marine species that are resilient to ocean changes, which will help better understand how to protect coral reefs in the future.

Lead author Dr Thomas DeCarlo said rising carbon dioxide (CO2) levels in the atmosphere were reflected in the ocean, which leads to ocean acidification.

“Acidification hampers the ability of the coral to form skeletons and shells which are the building blocks of reefs,” Dr DeCarlo said.

“In the past few decades, hundreds of experiments have shown that corals have a highly diverse response to ocean acidification depending on the species. However, the reasons why some are more tolerant than others are not clearly understood.

Dr DeCarlo and his team developed a new method to understand the internal chemistry of corals by using specialised equipment that measures the characteristics of the molecules in coral.

“The method showed corals with the most resistance are tolerant because of the way they are able to regulate their calcium levels,” Dr DeCarlo said. “This technique means scientists can identify species that are relatively resistant to ocean acidification.”

“However, we are also looking at the costs associated with resisting acidification, which may potentially make acidification-resistant corals more vulnerable to other stressors.”

Co-author Professor Malcolm McCulloch said previous studies found that even the more hardy coral species lose their ability to adapt to ocean acidification when they bleach under extreme heat events, as experienced in 2016.

“When a coral bleaches, it expels its ‘powerhouse’ – zooxanthellae symbionts, and loses the energy needed to keep its internal mechanisms running,” he said. ”The longer corals stay bleached, the less likely they are to recover.”

The paper, Coral resistance to ocean acidification linked to increased calcium at the site of calcification is published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B

Citation: DeCarlo, TM, Comeau, S, Cornwall, CE, and McCulloch, MT (2018). Coral resistance to ocean acidification linked to increased calcium at the site of calcification. Proc. R. Soc. B 20180564. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2018.0564

Images available here.

MEDIA REFERENCE

Thomas DeCarlo (UWA Research Fellow) (+61 4) 09 895 484 (AWST)

Catherine Naum (CoralCoE Communications Mgr) (+61 4) 28 785 895 / (+61 7) 4781 6067 (AEST)

Jess Reid (UWA Media and PR Advisor)     (+61 8) 6488 6876 (AWST)

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

A shark’s habitat can reduce its sensitivity to rising CO2 levels, according to Australian scientists.

Globally, ocean acidification – linked to emissions of greenhouse gases – remains a major concern and scientists say it will harm many marine species over the next century.

Researchers from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (Coral CoE) at James Cook University have found that the epaulette shark, a species that shelters within reefs and copes with low oxygen levels, is able to tolerate increased carbon dioxide in the water without any obvious physical impact.

“As part of the study we exposed the sharks to increased CO2 for more than two months, mirroring the levels predicted for the end of the century,” says study co-author Dr Jodie Rummer from Coral CoE.

“We then tested the sharks’ respiratory system, measuring how much oxygen it needed to maintain basic function under the experimental conditions.”

The researchers found the sharks were regulating their systems to counter the higher levels of acid in their bodies. Importantly, Dr Rummer explains, the sharks’ ability to cope with low oxygen levels – similar to that found in its natural habitat – was unaffected by high CO2 levels.

Study co-author, Professor Philip Munday from the Coral CoE says the sharks’ physiological adaptations, which enables it to cope with the conditions within reefs, makes them better able to tolerate ocean acidification.

“Species that live in shallow reef environments, where they can experience naturally high CO2 levels on a regular basis, may have adaptations that make them more tolerant to future rises in CO2 levels than other species.”

Professor Munday says the next critical step is to test the sensitivity of other shark species to ocean acidification.

“Species that live in the open ocean may be more susceptible to future acidification than those that naturally live in shallow reef environments where they already experience a variable environment.”

Dr Rummer adds that by determining which animals are more and less susceptible to high CO2 than others, scientists will be better able to predict the future consequences of ocean acidification on marine ecosystems.

Paper

A product of its environment: The epaulette shark (Hemiscyllium) exhibits physiological tolerance to elevated environmental CO2 by Dennis D.U Heinrich, Jodie Rummer, Andrea J. Morash, Sue-Ann Watson, Colin A. Simpfendorfer, Michelle R Heupel and Philip L. Munday is published in the journal Conservation Physiology.

Link to paper: http://conphys.oxfordjournals.org/content/2/1/cou047.full

Images

Epaulette shark sheltering in reef – image credit: M.Heupel.

Contact

Dr Jodie Rummer, Coral CoE – +61 7 4781 5300, +61 (0) 439 166 171
jodie.rummer@jcu.edu.au

Professor Philip Munday, Coral CoE – +61 7 4781 5341
philip.munday@jcu.edu.au

Eleanor Gregory, Coral CoE Media – +61 (0) 428 785 895
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