Coral colonies that suffered tissue damage in The Bahamas were still producing low numbers of eggs four years after the injuries occurred, according to new research by University at Buffalo scientists. Tiny sperm-producing factories called spermaries were also in short supply.
The slow recovery was a surprise, said UB geology professor Howard Lasker, PhD, who led the study on the coral species Antillogorgia elisabethae.
"The really interesting finding was that four years later, these colonies were still displaying an effect," Lasker said. "They don't necessarily look damaged anymore, but it takes some time to get back to where they were in terms of reproduction."
"This research has broader repercussions," Lasker said. "When you start talking about damage to reefs from events like hurricanes, you might say that the coral survived, that it lost some tissue, but it's still reproducing. That's true, but we now know the corals are not quite as healthy as we thought."
The study appeared Dec. 1 in the Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology. Lasker's co-author was Christopher Page, a master's student in UB's Graduate Program in Evolution, Ecology and Behavior. Page, who has since graduated, is a biologist at the Mote Marine Laboratory in Florida.
The species that the researchers examined — A. elisabethae, formerly known as Pseudopterogorgia elisabethae — is a Caribbean gorgonian coral. The coral forms male and female colonies and, during reproduction, the females release eggs which remain on the colony's surface to be fertilized and develop into larvae.
To study the effect of tissue damage on sexual activity, Lasker and Page looked at egg and sperm production in A. elisabethae colonies near Cross Harbour, Abaco in The Bahamas.
In this region, workers harvest the coral, pruning branches from large, sexually mature colonies to obtain an anti-inflammatory chemical used in a skin care product.
Such harvests took place in 2002 and 2005. In 2009, Lasker and Page returned to the area before the annual spawning, which for A. elisabethae occurs in November and December. The researchers compared 24 colonies that had been cropped to 20 that had not, carefully dissecting 24 individual coral polyps from each of the 44 colonies to count the reproductive organs within.
What they found:
In most corals, sexual maturity is understood to be a product of colony size, as opposed to age. As a general rule, large corals reproduce. Small ones don't. The new research is the latest to support the notion that damaged corals may have lower fecundity because they divert resources away from reproduction and toward growth and injury repair, Lasker said.
"The mechanism controlling resource allocation is unknown, but regardless of the process the important implication of the finding is that populations that appear to have survived and to have recovered from disturbance events may produce fewer gametes than the size and number of colonies would suggest," Page and Lasker wrote in their study.
The researchers added that it's still unknown how changes in egg and spermary production impact long-term population growth.
University at Buffalo: http://www.buffalo.edu
This press release was posted to serve as a topic for discussion. Please comment below. We try our best to only post press releases that are associated with peer reviewed scientific literature. Critical discussions of the research are appreciated. If you need help finding a link to the original article, please contact us on twitter or via e-mail.
Dinosaurs, those bygone masters of the planet, were warm-blooded just like today's mammals, according to a scientist who judged their metabolism using body mass and growth rates deduced from fossils of species including Tyrannosaurus rex.
Previously unknown prehistoric beaver bears an uncanny likeness to the modern state symbol
The latest research shows memories “lost” to amnesia aren’t gone forever; they’re just not accessible
The chief disease agency in the U.S. is looking into why the spores shipped to laboratories in nine states and a military base in South Korea hadn't been properly neutralized. So far no one is sick.
When players can change tactics, the game loops endlessly between the three weapons
When you spend five years watching kangaroos, you start to see some strange things.
Nearly three-quarters of fresh shop-bought chickens test positive for food poisoning bug campylobacter in year-long study.
Designed to give paralysed people more independence, the implant also lets us see if brain activity can show a person's decisions – before they realise they've made any
Australopithecus deyiremeda, which lived about 3.4 million yeas ago, suggests our ancestors were more diverse than we thought
Scientists say it's not just a murder from another era, but also part of one of the earliest mass graves.