Updated: Jul 20, 2022
COULD CORALS HAVE A "HEAT MEMORY"? A CRF™ SUPPORTED RESEARCH STUDY ASKS
Coral Restoration Foundation™ is a science-centered organization, at the forefront of the world’s coral restoration community. Our nurseries and restoration sites are living laboratories for research, and with data driving the evolution of our restoration techniques we can continue to track the progress of our work, develop best practices, and provide vital information and resources for coral scientists and restoration practitioners around the world.
CRF™ has the unique infrastructure to help support coral research. Our nurseries also hold an immense amount of stock and plethora of genotypes which allows researchers to have a variety of genetic diversity to choose from for experiments. Our science department supports coral research collaborations with scientists from all around the country. Together, our Science Program Manager and collaborating researchers work to make sure that the proposed projects align with CRF’s research priorities and make any necessary tweaks.
Coral samples from a CRF™ nursery are cataloged and transported. They will become a part of a research project with FIU and UBC. ©Jennifer Adler for Vox News
One of our recent research collaborators is the Environmental Epigenetics Laboratory, led by Dr. Jose Eirin-Lopez at Florida International University. With the collaboration of Ph.D. candidate Serena Hackerott. Their project investigates how corals will fare in the wild after being exposed to elevated seawater temperature. This collaboration has been in the works for two years and is currently funded by NOAA’s Ruth Gates Coral Restoration Innovation Grants, which goes to show just how much planning goes into CRF™ research collaborations.
For this project, CRF™ provided three different genotypes of staghorn corals from our coral nurseries. Staghorn coral also known as Acropora cervicornis, was historically one of the most populous species of corals in the Florida Keys but is now classified as endangered. Teams of divers from CRF™, Florida International University, and University of British Columbia harvested the three genotypes of staghorn coral from our open ocean coral nurseries.
CRF™ Science Program Manager Amelia Moura harvests coral samples from our open ocean nurseries for a research collaboration with FIU and UBC. ©Jennifer Adler for Vox News
Once harvested the corals were brought the samples to Keys Marine Lab in Layton, Florida. Keys Marine Lab is a land-based facility which houses tubs of seawater in which experiments can be controlled and observed. This is where FIU and UBC took over and began to run their experiment on the corals provided by CRF™.
It is likely that each genotype of coral responds slightly differently to temperature stress, and this study seeks to understand the differences across three coral genotypes. One set of corals acted as a control, and they were only exposed to normal seawater temperature. Other sets were exposed to the higher seawater temperatures for a variety of different lengths of time. When corals are exposed to elevated seawater temperatures, this stresses them, and they can bleach. Bleaching occurs when corals release their zooxanthellae, the plant cell that lives within the coral’s tissue and photosynthesizes. Without the zooxanthellae the coral loses its main source of energy and color. If seawater temperatures return to normal it is possible for the zooxanthellae to return and the coral to recover. So, what was the goal of this experiment? Why were these scientists exposing corals to higher seawater temperatures?
The team wants to understand how this pre-exposure to a high seawater temperature impacts the corals. Could the corals have a temperature memory? Could they be more resistant to high seawater temperatures in the future if they have already experienced similar conditions? Would this pre-exposure change something within the coral to help them withstand higher temperatures in the future? Through this experiment scientists hope to learn more and get closer to answering these questions.
Keys Marine Lab in Layton is home to tubs of controlled seawater environments in which marine research experiments can occur. ©Coral Restoration Foundation™
After the heat-exposure portion of the experiment, the researchers joined our restoration and science team to place these corals onto a carefully selected, secluded reef site. These corals were outplanted in a controlled setting and given a special location far from any active restoration sites. Every coral was individually tagged to identify its genotype and the treatment it underwent. Like with all other CRF™ monitoring, a photomosaic was taken right after the corals were outplanted and they will be monitored via photomosaic one month and one year after being outplanted. We look forward to seeing how these corals will perform on the reef and finding out how they respond to this pre-exposure stress now that they are living in the wild.
The CRF™ team assist Dr. Jose Eirin-Lopez of Florida International University and Ph.D. candidate Serena Hackerott for a research collaboration field day. ©Coral Restoration Foundation™
"Talking Science" Editorial Intern
Meg Van Horn grew up in Durham, North Carolina and has always had a passion for wildlife and the environment. She attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and received a Bachelor's degree in Environmental Science. While attending UNC, she worked at the Morehead Planetarium and the Museum of Life and Science which inspired her passion for public science education and its importance in today’s climate.
Meg was also a research assistant in a coral ecophysiology lab at UNC and helped on a coral environmental transplantation project and an independent project researching the historical changes of islands on the Belize Barrier Reef System. Meg loves maps – creating them and looking at them! She received her SCUBA certification while at UNC and recently got certified as a Rescue Diver. After graduating in May of 2020, she worked at a COVID-19 testing lab and a software start-up and is excited to get back into the marine science field.
This spring she lived in Florida for a month so she could dive on her weekends and work remotely during the week. While at CRF™, she hopes to inspire others to participate in science outreach, promote ocean conservation, and help restore coral reefs in the Keys.
Coral Chronicles Editor
Madalen Howard is CRF's Communications and Outreach Coordinator. Madalen comes to CRF™ via a winding road from the Tennessee hills, to the South Carolina low country, ending here in Florida’s Coral Reef. She earned her Bachelor's degree in Marine Biology and a Minor in Environmental Studies from the College of Charleston in 2016. Her experience ranges from field research to education, and communications.
Madalen spent the 4 years as a Field Instructor and Social Media Strategist for MarineLab Environmental Education Center. There she was able to study and teach marine ecology, while snorkeling through mangroves, seagrasses, and coral reefs every day. While at MarineLab she combined her education and research background, entered the world of communications, and developed MarineLab’s social media department from the ground up.
Throughout her life Madalen has had a skill connecting people with nature. With CRF™, she is excited to bring people into the world of coral restoration, creating inclusive pathways to scientific discovery.