Research Musings

Coral Fitness

My research aims to characterize coral’s physiological response to stressors such as increasing temperature then visualize their reaction using a thermal performance curve.

Thermal Performance Curves

Corals are under threat from rising ocean temperatures. The rate of thermal amplification is rising above the current thermal tolerances in corals. The aim of my research is to characterize these thermal ranges by constructing thermal performance curves across multiple species of corals, and under various regimes of stress mitigating processes and actions.

What is a thermal performance curve?

TPC show how an organism responds to increasing temperature. By measuring the organism’s rate (ie. breathing, feeding, reproduction, photosynthesis, and more) across a range of temperatures, we can see where their thermal limits are. We can see the thermal ranges (from the coldest to hottest they can stand before death. In the case of corals, I use thermal performance curves to identify what temperature they perform the best in (the highest rate) and apply it to conservation and restoration efforts. This can include identifying environments that remain within the thermal range of corals.

Acropora Restoration and Fitness in the Florida Keys

This year-long project focuses on the reef-building coral Orbicella franksi found throughout the Keys and the Caribbean.

Reducing Bleaching Severity in Coral Restoration

Utilizing these species-specific thermal performance curves, I then test various stress mitigating processes (decreasing harmful UV irradiance, increasing feeding, and alternative restoration techniques) to understand how coral fitness is changed with these treatments and if this fitness change directly affects the thermal range of the species. The aim is to identify techniques and mitigation actions that reduce bleaching severity and shift the thermal range of corals.

The goal of this research is to implement my findings into current restoration and management actions, identify techniques that can help keep corals within their thermal limits, and identify specific genotypes that have or are capable of shifting their thermal range beyond predicted future warming scenarios.

The restoration trees used in the Coral Restoration Foundations coral nurseries

02/18/2018

Corals in the laboratory shipped from Key Largo, FL and the Coral Restoration Foundation.

My first Graduate research project is investigating novel restoration tools for the endangered coral, Acropora cervicornis. UNC 2018

Thank you to the Coral Restoration Foundation, who graciously offered me offshore nursery corals to bring back to the lab to explore these techniques to see if we can improve coral restoration projects in Florida.

This research uses coral fitness measurements (respiration, photosynthesis, growth, and calcification rates) during experimental bleaching to see if my techniques reduce the severity of bleaching.

In the thick of experimentation, I perform weekly environmental water parameter checks on the coral tanks to ensure they are within their range in  Salinity, Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Calcium, Magnesium, and Alkalinity.

03/25/2018

Chemicals used to check water parameters in the aquarium