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

Research project: From microns to reefs: mechanistic insights into coral biomineralisation and the fate of coral reefs

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Microns2Reefs uses a multidisciplinary approach to generate a mechanistic understanding of coral skeleton growth and applies this knowledge to better understand the fate of coral reefs in the future.

The calcareous skeletons of reef building corals
Credit: J. Wiedenmann, C. D’Angelo, G.L. Foster

Coral reefs provide many ecosystem functions, from coastal defence to sustaining fisheries. These, and many others, critically depend on the 3D framework of the reef made from the skeletons of Scleractinian corals. The coral biomineralisation tool kit is known but key questions remain:

  • What biomineralisation tools are most important?
  • What and how do environmental and biological factors limit and influence biomineralisation?
  • How does the environmental sensitivity of coral biomineralisation determine the diversity, resilience, and survivability of individual colonies and the entire reef?

Microns2Reefs will answer these questions to inform the strategies needed to effectively manage these diversity hotspots that are placed into sharp focus by recent coral mass mortality events and the rapidity of anthropogenic climate change.

Schematic figure
Credit: T.B. Chalk, C.D. Standish & G.L. Foster

Image Top: The calcareous skeletons of reef building corals form the basis of functional coral reefs.
Image Right: Schematic showing the complex three-dimensional structure of colonial coral skeletal material (Siderastrea siderea). Coral polyps make up quasi-cylindrical structures (stippled) surrounded by denser wall structures (grey). When sectioned skeletal features will dip into and out of the section plane, as they do not grow along a perfectly straight axis in all dimensions, therefore it is imperative that a detailed understanding the skeletal structure measured is known.

Staff: Prof Gavin Foster, Dr Cecilia D’Angelo, Prof Joerg Wiedenmann 

Funding: European Research Council (ERC)
Funding dates: August 2020 - July 2025

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