Environment

Time-lapse video shows what happens when coral can't take the heat

H. actiniformis happens to be a coral species particularly resilient to coral bleaching
H. actiniformis happens to be a coral species particularly resilient to coral bleaching
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H. actiniformis happens to be a coral species particularly resilient to coral bleaching
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H. actiniformis happens to be a coral species particularly resilient to coral bleaching

Coral doesn't really like warming water, something scientists have know for quite some time. But by recording a close-range, time-lapse video of coral's response to rising sea temperatures, researchers have gained some new insights into how it expels algae from its tissue, a risky defense mechanism known as coral bleaching.

This year, Australia's Great Barrier Reef suffered through the worst coral bleaching event in its history. These events are triggered when sea temperatures venture outside of their normal range, which places stress on the algae living inside the coral that not only gives the corals their vibrant colors, but the nutrients they need to survive as well. The algae becomes toxic to the coral at these higher-than-normal temperatures, so it is ejected from the tissue as a coping mechanism. But this leaves the coral white, withering and — if temperatures don't soon drop to allow the return of the algae — in danger of death.

Mass bleaching events have occurred in the Great Barrier Reef before, in 2002 and 2008, but a survey in April revealed this year's to be more severe and widespread than ever before, with 93 percent of the reef affected by bleaching.

To learn more about how this process plays out, scientists from Australia's Queensland University of Technology placed a coral species called Heliofungia actiniformis into a 10-liter (2.64 gal) tank and used a combination of a microscope, digital camera and tablet to film its behavior as they turned up the heat.

With the temperature raised from 26° C to 32° C (78.8° F to 89.6° F) over twelve hours, and then left there for up to eight days, the team was able to observe in new detail the tricks the coral uses to endure higher temperatures.

"Our H. actiniformis used a pulsed inflation to expel Symbiodinium (the algae cells) over time (seen as greenish plumes in the video) – inflating their bodies to as much as 340 percent of their normal size before suddenly and violently contracting and ejecting Symbiodinium through their oral openings over the four to eight day duration of the experiments," says Dr Luke Nothdurft, from the university's School of Earth, Environmental and Biological Sciences.

H. actiniformis happens to be a coral species that is particularly resilient to coral bleaching, compared to neighboring species that suffer more dramatically from the changing temperatures. The scientists say that their research has revealed one of the possible reasons why, with the H. actiniformis violently ejecting the coral within the first two hours of the change in water temperature.

"Our observations suggest this resilience could be due to the rapid expulsion of the coral's algal symbionts during thermal stress, and could very well increase H. actiniformis' chance of survival during abnormally high sea temperatures," says Mr Lewis.

The time-lapse video can be seen below.

Source: Queensland University of Technology

Coral Bleaching - Pulsed inflation used to eject the dead algae cells.

5 comments
Brian H
Bleached coral is just awaiting another algae variety more suited to the new conditions. Routine.
MichaelVayro
"With the temperature raised from 26° C to 32° C (78.8° F to 89.6° F) over twelve hours" 6° C in twelve hours?! where is that ever going to happen? we are talking about 2°C in 100 years. I would have thought the diurnal temperature variation at about 1m depth was less than 1° C This research is completely meaning less unless its taken as nothing more than fear mongering.
Fretting Freddy the Ferret pressing the Fret
No, this research is far from meaningless taking in account that the average global temperature increase can be very different from the average regional temperature increase over a period.
Lbrewer42
More pseudoscience from the altar of the Global Warming Religion being posted as scientific fact: 7th grade Science lesson here folks: CO2 is called a greenhouse gas b/c it is associated with plants - in hot greenhouses. Scientific problem... Heat in the greenhouse is from the plants using up (removing) the CO2 in the greenhouse to make water vapor, O2, and food for themselves in a process called (remember 7th grade science?) PHOTOSYNTHESIS. The scientific FACT is the water vapor is what makes it hot (ever hear of humidity or the nightly news giving a "heat index" rating based on humidity?) CO2 cannot hold in heat - it is not a property is has. Politicians and kowtowing-to-the-almighty-dollar pseudo-scientists are the ones lying for the sake of money. Quit being a puppet. DO some research on the Hockey Stick graph, the farce behind it, and see the corrected version. Also google "Game Over, the IPCC quietly admits defeat." The IPCC is the global warming "go-to" of the UN that has been compiling reports for the last 15 years. But when the reports are all put together, they had to admit there was no global warming. Read it for yourself instead of being a puppet. The link you will find is not someone making false claims - it is the IPCC data itself.
mhenriday
Those who really want to know how water temperatures on the Great Barrier Reef have varied during 2016, compared with earlier averages, can look at the actual measurements (http://data.aims.gov.au/aimsrtds/yearlytrends.xhtml), rather than accusing researchers of fear mongering.... Henri