Thresholds of Hypoxia for Red Sea Corals

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Over the last four decades, coral reefs have suffered a ~50% decline of across the tropics. Consequently, most research efforts have focused on the impacts of anthropogenic pressures on corals, including ocean warming, ocean acidification, and overfishing. However, recent discoveries indicate that coral reefs are becoming increasingly vulnerable to acute deoxygenation events, which can drive severe and widespread coral bleaching, and in some cases, mortality of corals and other reef organisms.

On unimpacted coral reefs, dissolved oxygen (DO) availability can vary between 50% and 200% air saturation, depending on the location, proximity to the open-ocean, and time of the day. During the daytime, Symbiodiniaceae spp. produce more O than the coral host can consume, releasing excess O to the surrounding tissues. However, at nighttime Symbiodiniaceae spp. cease O production. Hence, corals may suffer to O deprivation at nighttime when the photosynthesis ceases, and holobiont respiration consumes oxygen. To assess the O thresholds and aftereffects of two Red Sea coral species: and corals were exposed to reduced DO concentrations. Coral fragments from both species were exposed to one control treatment (6.8 mg O l) and three reduced DO concentrations treatments (5.25 mg O l, 3.5 mg O l, and 1.25 mg O l). Experiments were held at a stable temperature (32°C ± 0.25) and stable pH levels (pH 8.2 ± 0.08).

Corals in these experiments displayed different thresholds to low O concentrations. coral fragments didn’t exhibit any bleaching symptoms throughout complete experiment. However, fragments showed signs of bleaching after the third night of exposure to the low O treatment (1.25 mg O l). Physiological variables such as maximum and effective photochemical efficiency, Chl , cell density, and dark respiration experienced the lowest values under the low O treatment for both species.

These results highlight the need for further experimental assessments of deoxygenation thresholds for corals across the globe. These assessments are of great importance to create better conservation strategies for the preservation of coral reefs.

Alva Garcia, J. V. (2021). Thresholds of Hypoxia for Red Sea Corals. KAUST Research Repository.


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