Ocean acidification changes the behaviour of baby coral

April 16, 2012, University of Queensland
Pillar coral, Dendrogyra cylindricus. Image: NOAA

(Phys.org) -- Ocean acidification caused by human development can alter the behaviour of baby corals, a new study shows.

A team of researchers from the School of and Global Change Institute at The University of Queensland studied how ocean acidification affects the settlement of baby corals onto a reef.

The study, published in the April edition of the prestigious journal , found that increasingly in the ocean appears to have a dramatic effect on the ability of baby corals to sense their surroundings.

The report's lead author and research scientist Christopher Doropoulos, said acidification caused the coral to settle in less suitable places, threatening their ability to survive.

“Baby corals are initially found as swimming larvae before they choose their place to attach to the reef and settle for life, a critical step to their survival and the maintenance of ,” he said.

“The coral larvae normally have this amazing ability to settle on one particular type of rock-like seaweed called Titanoderma. This stony seaweed is a safe haven for young corals, yet we found that, as levels of ocean acidification increased, the coral larvae avoided this seaweed and started to settle absolutely anywhere.”

Working at a remote island on the Great Barrier Reef, the team made the discovery of the disrupted ancient relationship between coral larvae and their favourite nursery habitat.

Christopher Doropolous said the outcomes may have major repercussions for the survival of baby corals and their ability to grow into the beautiful corals that sustain reefs worldwide.

“Ocean acidification also changed the types of seaweeds available to the corals and had a damaging effect on their preferred species of Titanoderma,” said Mr Doropoulos.

He said human development had increased the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, causing the oceans to become more acidic.

This new study adds to a growing body of research that demonstrates the negative effects of climate change on natural processes that sustain coral reefs, emphasizing the imminent need for humans to reduce carbon emissions.

Professor Peter Mumby, head of the Marine Spatial Ecology Laboratory, said the study warned of severe consequences for coral reefs.

“Our study identifies three major negative impacts of on baby corals. It reduces the number of corals settling, it disrupts their behaviour so that they make unwise decisions, and reduces the availability of the most desirable substrate for their survival. This may have severe consequences for how coral reefs function and how they recover from major disturbances.”

Explore further: Increasingly intense storms threaten coral

More information: Doropoulos, C., S. Ward, G. Diaz-Pulido, O. Hoegh-Guldberg, and P. J. Mumby. 2012. Ocean acidification reduces coral recruitment by disrupting intimate larval-algal settlement interactions. Ecology Letters 15:338-346.

Related Stories

Baby corals dance their way home

May 15, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Baby corals find their way home in their first days as free-swimming larvae by listening to the noise of animals on the reef and actively swimming towards it, an international team of researchers working ...

Corals and climate change

August 22, 2007

A modest new lab at the Rosenstiel School is the first of its kind to tackle the global problem of climate change impacts on corals. Fully operational this month, this new lab has begun to study how corals respond to the ...

Scientist creates new hypothesis on ocean acidification

August 30, 2011

A Researcher at the Hawai'i Institute of Marine Biology, an organized research unit in the University of Hawai'i at Manoa's School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology has come up with a new explanation for the effects ...

Recommended for you

Quick quick slow is no-go in crab courtship dance

January 16, 2018

Female fiddler crabs are sensitive to changes in the speed of a male's courtship display, significantly preferring displays that accelerate to those that are performed at a constant speed or slow down.


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1 / 5 (1) Apr 16, 2012
Is this article a joke? The poor baby corals are no longer wise because of us evil humans? Perhaps they need an special education program to teach them where to raise there beautiful coral families and all because of us? This reads like soap opera rather than science,
5 / 5 (1) Apr 17, 2012
And the denialbots arrive...

Never mind that independent Swedish studies also have discovered increased acidification alters the behaviour of fish. The reduced pH level has a sufficient effect on the brain chemistry to affect behaviour. But what do the scientists know? (sarcasm)
1 / 5 (1) Apr 18, 2012
What am I denying now? This article reads like an episode of "Finding Nemo". Much like name calling, anthropomorphizing for emotional impact only muddies the water when it comes to science . But then, that's just my opinion.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.