US Coral Reef Initiative--US National Science Foundation

Coral Health and Monitoring Program coral at
Wed Apr 17 06:49:55 EDT 1996

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Subject: US Coral Reef Initiative -- US National Science Foundation 

16 April 1996 

To anyone interested: 

Attached is a revised compendium that outlines many research and 
related projects that were supported by the U. S. National Science 
Foundation with Fiscal Year 1995 funding as part of the US Coral Reef 
Initiative and as part of the US  contribution to the International 
Coral Reef Initiative. 

Phillip Taylor, Director 
Biological Oceanography 
Division of Ocean Sciences 
U. S. National Science Foundation 
4201 Wilson Blvd. 
Arlington, Virginia 22230   USA 
prtaylor at 

16 April 1996 

Directorate for Geosciences (lead) 

Population Biology of Caribbean Octocorals 
Daniel Brazeau, University of Florida 

Fertilization success among sessile, marine invertebrates is a largely 
unknown variable bridging those factors which field ecologists can measure 
(fecundity, organism size, population abundance) and one often difficult 
to estimate (reproductive success). Using the Caribbean octocoral Baiareum 
asbestinum as a model animal, this project will examine temporal and 
spatial variation in reproductive success for male and female colonies. 
The research will test the specific prediction that female fertilization 
success is directly proportional to the nearby abundance male colonies. 
This information is crucial for understanding the abundance and growth of 
invertebrate populations in coral reef ecosystems and will provide 
important information for the successful restoration and management of 
coral reefs worldwide. 

The Role of Heterotrophic Dinoflagellates in Marine Plankton Dynamics: 
Growth, Grazing Behavior and Bioluminescence Edward Buskey, University of 

This study will examine the effects of food quantity and quality on the 
growth, feeding and bioluminescence of several species of Protoperidinium. 
Selective feeding of these pallium, feeding dinoflagellates (which capture 
large food particles extracellualarly) and the role of sensory perception 
in this selection process will also be examined. In addition, the study 
will determine the abundance of heterotrophic dinoflagellates in the 
western Gulf of Mexico, and examine the relationship between growth rate 
and bioluminescence capacity for field collected Protoperidinium incubated 
at ambient food concentrations. 

Hydrodynamic Forcing of Metabolism of Coral Reef Algal Communities Robert 
Carpenter, California State University Northridge and Susan Williams, San 
Diego State University 

The current paradigm explaining how coral reefs maintain high biomass of 
organisms and extremely high rates of gross primary productivity is that 
tight recycling of nutrients and organic matter occurs within the reef 
resulting in zones of net autotrophy alternating with zones of net 
heterotrophy. Autotrophic upstream communities are thought to support 
downstream heterotrophic assemblages with the overall balance resulting in 
ecosystem P/R ratios near unity. According to this paradigm, coral reefs 
are not coupled significantly to the surrounding oligotrophic ocean. 
Recent studies suggest that coral reefs may be much more dependent on 
hydrodynamic processes than currently believed. Although nutrient 
concentrations of tropical waters are very low, an enormous volume of 
water is advected across the reef and could result in a large flux of 
nutrients to benthic primary producers. The major upstream autotrophic 
zone is the reef flat where algal turf assemblages are responsible for the 
majority of primary productivi ty. Previous work has demonstrated that 
rates of primary productivity and nitrogen fixation of algal turf are 
affected significantly by water flow speed. Furthermore, flow measurements 
on one reef suggest that algal canopy height significantly alters the 
local hydrodynamic regime and as a result, metabolic processes of algal 
turfs may be diffusion-limited for a significant proportion of time. This 
project will test the hypothesis that rates of primary productivity and 
nitrogen fixation of coral reef algal turfs are diffusion-limited. 
Measurements of the flow environment on a reef flat will be made and used 
to estimate the degree to which algal turfs varying in canopy height are 
diffusion-limited. The project will then move on to test hypotheses about 
the specific factors that result in diffusion- limitation. The results of 
this project should fill a gap on empirical measurements of water flow in 
coral reef environments and how water flow affects algal metabolism. The 
results of this research may lead to a si gnificant paradigm shift in 
understanding how coral reefs function. Demonstration that reefs are open 
ecosystems that are strongly coupled to the surrounding ocean environment 
would have important implications for predictions of the effects of global 
climate change on these unique ecosystems. 

Recent Variability in the Intertropical Convergence Zone of the Western 
Atlantic: Seasonal Multicentury Reconstructions from Venezuela Corals 
Julie Cole, University of Colorado 

This project will examine stable isotopes in corals collected off 
Venezuela to look for evidence of changes in ocean circulation and 
temperature which may correlate with rainfall patterns in Brazil and 
sub-Saharan Africa. If so, the coral record can be used to extend rainfall 
records to prehistoric times, in order to discern cyclic or long-term 
changes. The project also implicitly tests assumptions about the role of 
cross- equatorial heat transport in controlling tropical Atlantic climate. 

The Record of ENSO in the Warm Pool of the Western Pacific: Multi-century 
Reconstruction from the Geochemistry of Long-lived Corals Julie Cole, 
University of Colorado 

The western Pacific warm pool provides a major source of water vapor and 
energy to the global atmosphere and is a "center of action" for the El 
Nino/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) system, whose signal permeates the global 
record of interannual climate variability. ENSO warm extremes originate 
from the region, and the western Pacific convection anomalies associated 
with ENSO propagate climate variability throughout the tropics and the 
world. This award supports a project that will reconstruct multi-century 
records of variability in the ocean/atmosphere of the western equatorial 
Pacific, using geochemical records from the skeletons of long-lived 
corals. The study will extend the limited record to ENSO to span the past 
few centuries along an equatorial transect from the region of the date 
line into the heart of the western Pacific warm pool. The resulting 
records will provide a new understanding of long-term temporal and spatial 
variability of ENSO and its relation to variations in the western Pacific 
warm pool an d to external forcings, including the regional response to 
the Little Ice Age. The proposed paleoclimatic study will place the 
TOGA/COARE observations in a long-term perspective and delineating the 
range of natural variability that models must aim to simulate. 

Population and Community Dynamics of Corals:  A Long Term Study. Joseph 
Connell, University of California 

The objectives of the present project are several: 1) To extend the 
detailed long-term monitoring of ecological communities of corals and 
algae on the Great Barrier Reef, Australia which has been carried on 
continuously over the past 30 years, the longest such study on any coral 
reef; 2) to expand the study to include sites on two nearby reefs, and 
additional replicate sites on Heron Reef; 3) to analyze spatial patterns 
and dynamics of corals and algae at several scales, from centimeters to 
tens of meters, both during the course of colonization of patches (opened 
by disturbances) and after most of the surface has become crowded by many 
colonies. These analyses should reveal the long-term effects of 
interactions that may be crucial in determining how natural communities 
are structured; 4) to test with controlled field experiments some 
hypotheses about mechanisms: a) that produce the unique species 
composition of corals at the Inner Reef Flat site, b) that cause 
contrasting patterns of algae after disturbances , and c) that determine 
precisely how each colony affects its neighbors; 5) to build mathematical 
models and computer simulations of the dynamics of these populations and 
communities of corals and algae: a) to investigate the influence of past 
and present conditions on future changes, b) to characterize temporal and 
spatial dynamics, and c) to test hypotheses about the consequences of 
these dynamics to the community. The models will be also used to asses the 
degree to which community structure and dynamics may or may not be 
influenced by details of spatial relationships. The field methods will use 
the standard sampling techniques used over the past 30 years, to assure 
continuity in the long-term data base. The experimental methods, using 
coral transplanting and cages to exclude larger herbivores, have also been 
used before in this study and are well- established. Larval choice 
experiments and new recruit transplants have been carried out successfully 
by the co- investigators elsewhere on the Great Barrier Re ef.. The 
significance of this proposed research to the advancement of knowledge is 
that: 1) it deepens the general knowledge of how natural communities of 
corals and algae (the dominant sessile organisms on tropical and 
sub-tropical reefs), are assembled and structured in the face of changes 
in their environment over extended periods of time; 2) it reveals some of 
the mechanisms that link the environment with these community changes, and 
how both vary over short and long time periods and between small and 
larger spatial scales; and 3) it helps to predict the effect of 
environmental changes, including those caused by human activity, on these 
natural communities. 

Ribosomal DNA Sequences in Marine Yeasts:  A Model for Identification and 
Quantification of Marine Eukaryotes Jack Fell, University of Miami 

Using molecular techniques for rapid and accurate determination of 
community structure, this research will determine fungal biodiversity and 
population biomass in tropical caostal ecosystems (principally mangrove 
ecosystems) of two distinctly different groups of micro-fungi: the 
basidiomycetous yeasts and the oomycetous genus Halophythophora. Both 
groups have important roles in detrital based food webs. The research 
program will include laboratory and field studies. Laboratory studies will 
complete the data bank of know species as a basis for determining 
community structure in the field. New procedures will be developed with 
preliminary emphasis on quantitative PCR (QPCR) using laser detected 
infrared labeled primers. Field research will center on reef and mangrove 
habitats. Using a combination of classical microbial techniques and 
molecular methods, the community structure and relative abundance of known 
and unknown culturable fungi species will be determined. The identity of 
these species will be ascertain ed by automated DNA sequence analysis and 
nucleotide alignment with the data bank. Species-specific regions will be 
located and primers developed to test the accuracy and sensitivity of PCR 
techniques in estimating community structure. Through the use of PCR and 
QPCR, the occurrence of unculturable species and population densities will 
be estimated. The techniques developed in this research can be applied to 
population analyses of other micro- or macro-eukaryote communities. 

Bleaching of Symbiotic Algae (Zooxanthellae) and their Invertebrate Hosts: 
Causes and Mechanisms William Fitt, University of Georgia 

Bleaching, the loss of symbiotic dinoflagellates("zooxanthellae" 
hereafter) of their pigments, of reef corals and other invertebrates has 
become a world-wide problem in tropical marine ecosystem, linked by some 
researchers to global warming. The results of bleaching have potentially 
devastating environmental, ecological and economic effects in the 
Caribbean, IndoPacific, an other tropical marine areas. Though there is 
some experimental work showing involvement of both higher than average 
temperature and light, the mechanisms involved in bleaching are not well 
understood this project will test three hypotheses. 1. Bleaching in nature 
is caused by high temperature stress coupled with high energy blue light 
(and possibly UV-A between 380-400nm). Preliminary evidence shows that 
while high temperature alone will induce bleaching, natural light exposure 
during high temperature treatment exacerbates the effect by lowering the 
temperature threshold and time to bleaching at a given temperature. this 
study will determ ine which component of light is responsible for this 
effect and the mechanisms of action. Early theories on bleaching had light 
playing a major role, but experimental evidence has not yet supported this 
contention. Potentially harmful chemical alterations associated with high 
energy wavelengths of blue light (and possibly some near-blue wavelengths 
of UV-A, that are not adsorbed by UV-protecting pigments found in corals) 
are not only consistent with field observations of bleaching, but are also 
supported by both laboratory and field-based preliminary experiments. 2. 
The mechanisms of temperature-light induced bleaching involves the 
irreversible dissociation of the chlorophyll-protein associations in the 
chloroplast. The harmful effects of high temperatures and light on algae 
include the irreversible separation or inactivation of the 
chlorophyll-protein complexes associated with reaction centers in the 
chloroplast. Electron transport activity and eventually carbon fixation 
decrease markedly. 3. High light and temperatures cause decreases in 
"protective" pigments which absorb ultraviolet light. The role of 
different wavelengths of light in conjunction with high temperature in 
determining concentrations of UV- screening pigments will be determined as 
well as their relationship with photosynthetic rates. These hypotheses 
will be tested using cultured and freshly isolated zooxanthellae, and 
intact hosts both in the laboratory and in field-based experiments. 

El Nino Impacted Coral Reefs In The Tropical Eastern Pacific Secondary 
Disturbances, Recovery and Modeling of Population and Community Responses. 
Peter Glynn, University of Miami 

This research will continue a long-term study that has focused on 
ecological disturbances to eastern Pacific coral reefs that accompanied 
the sever and historically unprecedented 1982-83 El Nino-Southern 
Oscillation (ENSO). The study involves international collaboration with 
host- county research teams and primary field sites in Costa Rica, Panama, 
and the Galapagos Islands (Ecuador), areas heavily impacted by the 1982-83 
ENSO. Dr. Glynn will lead the research to continue (a) with the physical 
and biotic monitoring of eastern Pacific coral reefs initiated in the 
early-mid 1970s, (b) investigating the responses of different coral 
species to ENSO stressors, (c) studying coral reproductive ecology as it 
relates to recruitment success, and (d) documenting coral community 
recovery. New research directions include (e) remote sensing, which will 
attempt to link coral bleaching/mortality with local and global scale sea 
surface temperatures by means of synoptic and repeated measurements, and 
(f) modeling of coral pop ulation and community dynamics based on 
mechanistic relationships between temperature, predation, coral growth, 
and survivorship derived from field monitoring and experimental results. 
Because important secondary disturbances are still occurring and reef 
recovery has been slow, it is necessary to continue this study in order to 
understand the variety of changes involved and the full impact of a major 
disturbance on eastern Pacific coral survival and reef building. We are 
hopeful that ENSO warming disturbances can provide some insight to the 
probable changes in coral reefs worldwide if projected global warming 
causes repeated and/or protracted sea temperature increases comparable to 
the 1982-83 ENSO. 

Quantitative Aspects of Prey Chemical Defenses 
Mark Hay, University of North Carolina 

This project will extend the PI's current investigations on chemical 
mediation of seaweed-herbivore and invertebrate-predator interactions to 
include: (1) complex interactions of prey nutritional value with chemical 
and structural prey defenses, (2) an understanding of how larval and spore 
defenses differ from those of the adult, and why (exposure to different 
consumers?, increased exposure to UV without adult structures that provide 
shade?, etc.), and (3) the role of learned aversion by vertebrate versus 
invertebrate consumers in affecting both prey and consumer dynamics. 
Because benthic seaweeds and invertebrates play a trophically and 
ecologically important role in tropical and sub-tropical near-shore 
communities and are rich sources of novel secondary metabolites that 
function as defenses against consumers and have potential applications as 
pharmaceuticals, agrochemicals, and growth regulating substances, 
understanding how these organisms respond chemically to ecological and 
environmental threats can pro vide fundamental information about how 
marine systems function, and can suggest strategies for applied uses of 
marine natural products. 

Broadcast Spawning and the Population Ecology of Coral Reef Animals Howard 
Lasker, State University of New York 

The literature on marine benthic ecology and evolution has generally 
ignored fertilization rates as an important factor in the life histories 
of benthic species, many which are important resource species. These rates 
have implicitly been assumed to be uniformly high and thus not a terribly 
significant factor in the establishment of the adult populations. There 
are now a number of data sets which raise doubts about the validity of 
that assumption. The research will determine rates of fertilization among 
natural populations and will explore some of the factors controlling these 
rates in reef communities. Using the Caribbean gorgonian, Plexaura A, as a 
model system Drs. Lasker and Coffroth will determine rates of 
fertilization of eggs released in synchronous spawning events. Plexaura A 
is clonal and often has skewed ratios of male and female colonies on 
different reefs. This will enable comparison of rates from reefs which 
differ in current regime and in the density of male colonies. Using random 
amplified poly morphic DNA (RAPD) from individual planulae larvae, they 
will conduct paternity analyses, determine the proportion of 
fertilizations attributable to specific male clones, and determine the 
effects of clone size and distribution on fertilization. If rates are low 
and are affected by factors such as population density, then it will be 
necessary to incorporate fertilization rates in analyses of benthic 
population animal dynamics and evolution. 

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