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The University of Southampton
Ocean and Earth Science, National Oceanography Centre Southampton

Research project: Defining Nutritional Bottlenecks of Reef Coral Growth and Stress Tolerance

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This project aims to transform our understanding of nutrient cycling and symbiosis in reef-building coral species.

Coral reefs are hot spots of biodiversity in nutrient poor waters.
Coral reefs are hot spots of biodiversity in nutrient poor waters.

Coral reefs sustain >25% of all marine biodiversity in only <1% of ocean surface area and the livelihoods of >0.5 billion people. Perturbations to the natural nutrient environment represent an existential danger to coral reefs, but why is this the case? More than 175 years after Charles Darwin's seminal observation, we still lack a convincing mechanistic explanation as to why reef corals thrive, sustaining exceptionally high rates of biological production, in nutrient-poor oceanic regions. The answer is certainly rooted in the symbiotic association between endocellular microalgae ("zooxanthellae") and the coral animal host, but the physiological processes involved are far from understood.

This project aims to transform our understanding of nutrient cycling and symbiosis in corals by analysing ten representative reef-building coral species and study nutrient uptake and utilisation through isotopic labelling and elemental analysis in controlled long-term experiments. We will determine how present-day and projected future ocean temperature and pH influence the utilisation of nutrients and shape coral growth and symbiosis functioning.

Image credit: J. Wiedenmann & C. D’Angelo

Staff: Prof Joerg Wiedenmann, Dr Cecilia D’Angelo, Prof Paul Wilson, Dr Maria Loreto Mardones

Funding: NERC
Funding dates: 1 May 2020 - 30 Apr 2023

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