[Coral-List] using tank reared corals for experiments

Eric Borneman eborneman at uh.edu
Wed Jul 14 21:47:47 EDT 2004

Hi Shashank:

These are very good questions, and ones that others have certainly 
brought up.

If you are familiar with really well-run reef aquaria, you will know 
that they are reasonably accurate microcosms. The diversity has been 
found to be equal to many wild reefs (Allegra Small published in Atoll 
Research Bulletin) but missing some important taxa, but also having 
higher populations of others and often with similar ecological roles. 
They respond similarly to stress, including sedimentation, temperature, 
nutrients, and perturbation.  Bleaching and disease are present. The 
water quality, if properly maintained, is similar to wild reefs; 
lighting can be produced that is as intense as shallow water 
environments or as low as deep water habitats, etc. Even water flow 
today utilizing surge systems, microprocessor controlled large bore 
pumps, wave timers, wave boxes, and other recently available devices, 
is potentially comparable to wild reefs. Coral growth rates have been 
shown to be equal or exceed those in the wild (several older studies 
and several at the 10ICRS, too). Sexual reproduction is becoming more 
and more common and predictable (I had a poster on this). Predation, 
competition, parasitism, commensalism, and other symbioses, as well as 
typical top-down and bottom-up effects occur.  Algal and zooplankton 
blooms appear and disappear seasonally.  Marshall Hayes gave a nice 
talk where he looked at microbial surface flora and found diversity and 
variation over the long term in many ways similar to what Forest Rohwer 
described in an earlier presentation in wild corals. Just as no two 
reefs are the same, neither are two reef aquaria, even when "set up" 
identically. Thus, even variation attributed to biological and 
ecological processes are occurring.

While certain aspects are obviously not comparable to reefs, and often 
are limited by scale, they are pretty darn good small and somewhat 
controllable habitats.  I cannot speak for others involved and 
presenting similar projects, or mariculture efforts, but we are 
operating at that level and not at the highly artificial level where 
conditions are vastly different from the field.  It is my experience 
that corals, at least, do not do very well under those conditions 
anyway and will not thrive in glass boxes filled with seawater, an 
airstone, and a fluorescent bulb.

There are clearly many research areas which cannot and probably should 
not be done in aquaria, but there are also many which can, and 
specifically I think would be useful to test models where large scale 
field experiments are difficult to basically impossible or useless. If 
there are specific associations to be studied, as you allude in your 
post, many can probably be reproduced in tanks with someone skilled 
enough to accomplish it. Bruce Carlson wrote an article in the 1999 Am 
Zool, "Organism responses to rapid change: what aquaria tell us about 
nature" that is a good review of these concepts.

Anyway, what our project involves is currently strictly for the CDHC 
disease research and so there really won't be "artificially reared 
corals which may be available in large numbers in future for all our 
coral related research" - at least from us - in the near future.  This 
is fairly new ground, and we will know soon enough how appropriate 
these corals are for disease research (though I pretty much know the 
answer!). At the present time, we have not even begun to work towards 
expanding the project for other areas of coral research, but it has, of 
course, crossed our mind. I'm sure we will try and attract some funding 
for any future developments of that sort, and maybe perhaps as a pilot 
project to further assess the application of the effort to other 
research.  If it turns out it is feasible, it should be quite a boon 
for many investigators (clonal lines, genotype and geographical 
separation, larger potential sample sizes, etc.), and also hopefully 
cut back on loss from wild populations, as well as being less expensive 
to acquire.  That is what we are hoping.  Now, to do this would require 
me to clone myself (or find some other interested and able persons), 
because as I mentioned in my talk, this is just one of my 
"side-projects" - and since you saw the scale of it, you can probably 
imagine what expansion would entail. I could easily dedicate all day, 
every day, to this work and would enjoy it immensely but alas, I have 
my own research interests, too.

Thanks for the thought-provoking comments.


Eric Borneman
Department of Biology
University of Houston
Science and Research Bldg II
4800 Calhoun Rd.
Houston TX 77204

On Jul 14, 2004, at 12:15 PM, shashank Keshavmurthy wrote:

> Hi all!!
> Here I am again with one of my questions. It again is very simple and 
> may be basic but I need to know...................
> My question is about artificially reared corals which may be available 
> in large numbers in future for all our coral related research.
> Will they not be a kind of too ideal specimens for the experiments? I 
> mean when we do our experiments with corals sampled form natural 
> environments we have to remember that the coral not just have 
> symbiosis with zooxanthellae but also with numerous other microscopic 
> and macroscopic creatures which may be necessary for the normal coral 
> behaviour and life.
> Now if one considers artificially reared corals, most of these 
> associations are being phased out.
> Will it have an effect on our ultimate understanding on the coral 
> behaviour as a result of coral interaction change?
> Because all our experiments is not just to crack disease and other 
> problems but also to understand the coral ecology and biology so that 
> we can try and make better place for their continuous survival.
> I hope Eric can answer my question.  We had a nice discussion in 
> Okinawa and also it he gave an interesting talk about aquarium corals 
> and their possible use which is responsible for the genesis of this 
> question.
> Cheers!!!
> shashank
> "the role of infinitely small in nature is infinitely large"-Louis 
> Pasteur
> Keshavmurthy Shashank
> Kochi University, Faculty of Agriculture
> Lab. of AQUa. Environ. Sci. (LAQUES)
> Otsu 200, Monobe, Nankoku-shi
> 783-8502, Kochi, Japan
> alt. id: shashank at cc.kochi-u.ac.jp
> phone: 81 090 8285 9012
> _______________________________________________
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> Coral-List at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
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