Crystallographic and chemical signatures in coral skeletal aragonite


Farfan, Gabriela A.
Apprill, Amy
Cohen, Anne
DeCarlo, Thomas M.
Post, Jeffrey E.
Waller, Rhian G.
Hansel, Colleen M.

Online Publication Date

Print Publication Date


Corals nucleate and grow aragonite crystals, organizing them into intricate skeletal structures that ultimately build the world’s coral reefs. Crystallography and chemistry have profound influence on the material properties of these skeletal building blocks, yet gaps remain in our knowledge about coral aragonite on the atomic scale. Across a broad diversity of shallow-water and deep-sea scleractinian corals from vastly different environments, coral aragonites are remarkably similar to one another, confirming that corals exert control on the carbonate chemistry of the calcifying space relative to the surrounding seawater. Nuances in coral aragonite structures relate most closely to trace element chemistry and aragonite saturation state, suggesting the primary controls on aragonite structure are ionic strength and trace element chemistry, with growth rate playing a secondary role. We also show how coral aragonites are crystallographically indistinguishable from synthetic abiogenic aragonite analogs precipitated from seawater under conditions mimicking coral calcifying fluid. In contrast, coral aragonites are distinct from geologically formed aragonites, a synthetic aragonite precipitated from a freshwater solution, and mollusk aragonites. Crystallographic signatures have future applications in understanding the material properties of coral aragonite and predicting the persistence of coral reefs in a rapidly changing ocean.

Farfan, G. A., Apprill, A., Cohen, A., DeCarlo, T. M., Post, J. E., Waller, R. G., & Hansel, C. M. (2021). Crystallographic and chemical signatures in coral skeletal aragonite. Coral Reefs. doi:10.1007/s00338-021-02198-4

This project was funded by the Mineralogical Society of America Edward H. Kraus Crystallographic Research Fund and the WHOI Ocean Ventures Fund. G. Farfan was supported by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Grant No. 1122374 and a Ford Foundation Dissertation Fellowship. Sample collections from R. Waller were funded under NSF Grant Numbers 1245766, 1127582 and NOAA Ocean Exploration Deep Atlantic Stepping Stones. The authors thank Erik Cordes for the samples collected from the Gulf of Mexico, which were supported by NSF BIO-OCE Grant # 1220478. STZC collections from A. Apprill were funded by a Dalio Foundation (now ‘OceanX’) and a KAUST-WHOI Special Academic Partnership Funding Reserve with Christian Voolstra. Research and coral collections in Cuba were conducted under the LH112 AN (25) 2015 license granted by the Cuban Center for Inspection and Environmental Control with the assistance of Patricia Gonzalez and Michael Armenteros. Corals from Western Australia were collected under license number SF009558 obtained by M. McCulloch, and from the Maldives Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture with collection permits (No. (OTHR)30-D/INDIV/2013/359). Matthew Neave assisted with the collections.

Springer Science and Business Media LLC



Additional Links

Permanent link to this record