The Murray Foundation
Coral Reef Ecosystems
The need to understand the potential impact of ocean changes (acidification, temperature, UV radiation) on the functioning of corals, the process of calcification and thus reproduction of these systems requires the development of analytical techniques (molecular biology, genome analysis, cell culturing among others) as well as well as a wide variety of complementary tools. The data provided can be used to develop standard models to investigate an array of processes impacting coral development under differing external pressures.
Often called "rainforests of the sea", coral reefs form some of the most diverse ecosystems on Earth. They occupy less than 0.1% of the world's ocean surface, yet they provide a home for at least 25% of all marine species. However, coral reefs are fragile and are under threat from climate change, oceanic acidification, overuse of reef resources, and harmful land-use practices, including urban and agricultural runoff and water pollution. Coral reefs deliver a wide variety of ecosystem services among others tourism, fisheries, shoreline protection, and interest is growing in possible pharmaceutical applications.
Such analytical and numerical tools provided the means to investigate such questions as: how do cells bio-mineralize and control this process; what are the impacts of environmental factors on this process; what are the characteristics of such processes that can explain the differences observed in the variations of resistance of different coral types to changes in the environment?
Mechanisms of adaption are also of interest. Studies on cold water corals (living at great depth without light) to investigate the contrasts and similarities with warm water species help to understand the circumstances that allow populations to develop in a variety of environmental conditions.
At the continental-oceanic level a question of increasingly political and financial importance is to understand the impact of ocean acidification on ecosystem services. Sustainable development implies economic policy (market forces, finance) that will rely, among others, on indicators that take into account environmental conditions.
Coral calcifying fluid pH dictates response to ocean acidification. Holcomb M, Venn A, Tambutté E, Tambutté S, Allemand D, Trotter J, McCulloch M. Scientific reports 4: 5207-5207, (2014).