Research Publication Title

Literature Review of Coral Bleaching from an Ecological Perspective

Major

Biology

Faculty Mentor(s)

Allison VandeVoort

Keywords

coral, bleaching, ecology, symbiont, global warming

Abstract

Coral reefs are home to many marine species, some of which are used for medical research, and protect shorelines from waves, storms, and flooding. Coral reef bleaching is the loss of color and life across an otherwise colorful and productive coral reef. This is caused by the loss of a symbiotic relationship with a special type of algae: Zooxanthellae. Zooxanthellae are dinoflagellates belonging to the genus Symbiodinium. They are closely connected to hermatypic reef building corals. Photosynthetic zooxanthellae provide their host corals with photosynthates and sugars, while the host provides structure and nutrients to provide ample starting materials for photosynthesis. When ocean temperatures rise, corals become stressed and release zooxanthellae living in their tissues. If these symbionts are not reabsorbed quickly, the coral will die. Coral reef bleaching was first observed in 1870, but is becoming a more frequent and severe issue. On smaller scales, environmental stressors causing coral bleaching include changes in temperature, light, salinity, sedimentation, disease and pollution. Wide-scale bleaching events are linked to global climate change causing ocean warming and acidification. If global climate change continues at the current rate, coral reefs will suffer. In order to protect reefs, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is involved in monitoring reef vulnerability via satellites, and it supports legal change to create protected reef areas and control ocean pollution. The purpose of this study is to investigate the mechanisms behind coral bleaching, the causes of coral bleaching, and what can be done to prevent further coral bleaching.

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Literature Review of Coral Bleaching from an Ecological Perspective

Coral reefs are home to many marine species, some of which are used for medical research, and protect shorelines from waves, storms, and flooding. Coral reef bleaching is the loss of color and life across an otherwise colorful and productive coral reef. This is caused by the loss of a symbiotic relationship with a special type of algae: Zooxanthellae. Zooxanthellae are dinoflagellates belonging to the genus Symbiodinium. They are closely connected to hermatypic reef building corals. Photosynthetic zooxanthellae provide their host corals with photosynthates and sugars, while the host provides structure and nutrients to provide ample starting materials for photosynthesis. When ocean temperatures rise, corals become stressed and release zooxanthellae living in their tissues. If these symbionts are not reabsorbed quickly, the coral will die. Coral reef bleaching was first observed in 1870, but is becoming a more frequent and severe issue. On smaller scales, environmental stressors causing coral bleaching include changes in temperature, light, salinity, sedimentation, disease and pollution. Wide-scale bleaching events are linked to global climate change causing ocean warming and acidification. If global climate change continues at the current rate, coral reefs will suffer. In order to protect reefs, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is involved in monitoring reef vulnerability via satellites, and it supports legal change to create protected reef areas and control ocean pollution. The purpose of this study is to investigate the mechanisms behind coral bleaching, the causes of coral bleaching, and what can be done to prevent further coral bleaching.