Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Ancient corals provide insight on the future of Caribbean reefs

Date:
April 11, 2011
Source:
University of Miami
Summary:
Climate change is already widely recognized to be negatively affecting coral reef ecosystems around the world, yet the long-term effects are difficult to predict. Scientists are now using the geologic record of Caribbean corals to understand how reef ecosystems might respond to climate change expected for this century.

This is the extinct Pliocene free-living coral Trachyphyllia bilobata collected from the northern Dominican Republic.
Credit: Neogene Marine Biota of Tropical America

Climate change is already widely recognized to be negatively affecting coral reef ecosystems around the world, yet the long-term effects are difficult to predict. University of Miami (UM) scientists are using the geologic record of Caribbean corals to understand how reef ecosystems might respond to climate change expected for this century.

Related Articles


The findings are published in the current issue of the journal Geology.

The Pliocene epoch--more than 2.5 million years ago--can provide some insight into what coral reefs in the future may look like. Estimates of carbon dioxide and global mean temperatures of the period are similar to environmental conditions expected in the next 100 years, explains James Klaus, assistant professor in the Department of Geological Sciences, College of Arts and Sciences, at UM and lead investigator of this project.

"If the coming century truly is a return to the Pliocene conditions, corals will likely survive, while well-developed reefs may not," says Klaus, who has a secondary appointment in the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science (RSMAS), at UM. "This could be detrimental to the fish and marine species that rely on the reef structure for their habitat."

The study looks at the fossil records of coral communities from nine countries around the Caribbean region to better understand the nature of these ecosystems during the Pliocene. Today, fossil reefs are often found far from the sea, exposed in road cuts, quarry excavations, or river canyons due to uplift and higher ancient sea levels.

In studying the fossil reefs, the researchers uncovered a striking difference between modern and Pliocene coral communities. The Pliocene epoch was characterized by a great diversity of free-living corals. Unlike most reef corals, these corals lived unattached to the sea floor. Free-living corals were well suited to warm, nutrient-rich seas of the Pliocene. Between eight and four million years ago the origination of new free-living coral species approximately doubled that of other corals. However, free-living corals experienced abrupt extinction as seawater cooled, nutrient levels decreased, and suitable habitat was eliminated in the Caribbean. Of the 26 species of free-living corals that existed during the Pliocene, only two remain in the Caribbean today. The modern Caribbean coral fauna is composed of those coral species that survived this extinction event.

The scientists argue that the effects of ongoing climate change are reminiscent of conditions present during the Pliocene and opposite to the environmental factors that caused the extinction and gave rise to modern Caribbean corals. So, how might the Caribbean coral fauna respond to a predicted return to Pliocene-like conditions within this century? The free-living corals of the Pliocene would have been well suited to ocean conditions projected for this century. However, the modern reef-building coral fauna may not, explains Donald McNeill, senior scientist in the Division of Marine Geology and Geophysics at UM and co-author of the study.

"Like the Pliocene, we might expect shallow reefs to be increasingly patchy with lower topographic relief," says McNeill. "Rising levels of carbon dioxide will lower the pH in the oceans, a process known as ocean acidification, and will make it difficult for corals to build their limestone skeletons."

Climate change may also increase nutrients in the oceans, boosting populations of marine life that degrade the coral into fine white sand, a process called bioerosion. Reefs built by corals in areas with high bioerosion will be affected the most. Mesophotic reefs, those growing in depths between 30 and 150 meters, have reduced rates of both calcification and bioerosion and thus may be affected less.

The study is funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation. Other authors are Dr. Scott Ishman, Professor, and Brendan Lutz, doctoral student, at Southern Illinois University; Dr. Ann Budd, Professor at the University of Iowa, and Kenneth Johnson, Researcher at the Natural History Museum, London.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Miami. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. J. S. Klaus, B. P. Lutz, D. F. McNeill, A. F. Budd, K. G. Johnson, S. E. Ishman. Rise and fall of Pliocene free-living corals in the Caribbean. Geology, 2011; 39 (4): 375 DOI: 10.1130/G31704.1

Cite This Page:

University of Miami. "Ancient corals provide insight on the future of Caribbean reefs." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 April 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/04/110407141336.htm>.
University of Miami. (2011, April 11). Ancient corals provide insight on the future of Caribbean reefs. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 24, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/04/110407141336.htm
University of Miami. "Ancient corals provide insight on the future of Caribbean reefs." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/04/110407141336.htm (accessed November 24, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Earth & Climate News

Monday, November 24, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Car Park Solution for Flexible Green Energy

Car Park Solution for Flexible Green Energy

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Nov. 24, 2014) A British solar power start-up says that by covering millions of existing car park spaces around the UK with flexible solar panels, the country's power problems could be solved. Suzannah Butcher reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Ebola-Hit Sierra Leone's Late Cocoa Leaves Bitter Taste

Ebola-Hit Sierra Leone's Late Cocoa Leaves Bitter Taste

AFP (Nov. 23, 2014) The arable district of Kenema in Sierra Leone -- at the centre of the Ebola outbreak in May -- has been under quarantine for three months as the cocoa harvest comes in. Duration: 01:32 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
NY Gov. on Flood Prep: 'prepared for the Worst'

NY Gov. on Flood Prep: 'prepared for the Worst'

AP (Nov. 23, 2014) First came the big storm. Now comes the big melt for residents of flood-prone areas around Buffalo. New York's governor says officials are preparing for the worst as the temperature is expected to rise and potentially melt several feet of snow. (Nov. 23) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Anglerfish Rarely Seen In Its Habitat Will Haunt You

Anglerfish Rarely Seen In Its Habitat Will Haunt You

Newsy (Nov. 22, 2014) For the first time Monterey Bay Aquarium recorded a video of the elusive, creepy and rarely seen anglerfish. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins