Physiological response of the Caribbean Coral O. annularis to Pollution Gradients

Friday, 19 December 2014
Erin Lee Murphy1, Mayandi Sivaguru2,3 and Bruce W Fouke1, (1)University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, Geology, Urbana, IL, United States, (2)University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, Institute for Genomic Biology, Urbana, IL, United States, (3)Institute for Genomic Biology, Urbana, IL, United States
Orbicella annularis is an abundant ecological cornerstone framework-building Scleractinian coral throughout the Caribbean Sea. The O. annularis holobiont (biotic and abiotic components of the coral) is negatively impacted by increased exposure to anthropogenic pollution. This is consistently evidenced by altered tissue cellular composition, and skeletal structure. The O. annularis’ holobiont is weakened by increased exposure to sewage and ship bilge pollution. Pollution exposure is characterized by decreased skeletal growth, as well as decreased zooxanthellae and chromatophore tissue cell densities. Healthy colonies studied at five sites on the leeward coast of Curacao, along a systematically decreasing pollution concentration, were sampled from the back-reef depositional facies of a protected fringing reef tract. A unidirectional oceanographic current flows to the NW past the city of Willemstad, a large point source of human sewage and ship bilge. This setting creates an ideal natural laboratory for in situ experimentation that quantitatively tracks the impact to coral physiology along a gradient from unimpacted to polluted seawater. Our lab has established laser scanning microscopy for three-dimensional (3D) quantification of zooxanthellae, and chromatophore cellular tissue density. X-ray computed tomography (BioCT) was used for analysis of skeletal density. Zooxanthellae density decreased as pollution concentration increased. Chromatophore density showed no significant relationship with pollution concentration but varied dramatically within each site. This suggests zooxanthellae density is highly impacted by environmental stress while variation in chromatophore density is driven by genetic variation. These results will be used to create a new model for environmental impacts on coral physiology and skeletal growth.