Corals in the Land Down Under!

For my dissertation I traveled to Australia, the land down under! There I worked with the Australian Research Council’s (ARC) Centre of Excellence (CoE) for Coral Reef Studies at the University of Western Australia in Perth. I did my project on corals found in the Kimberley Region of Australia.

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The Kimberley Region is found in Northwest Australia. It is a unique area where coral reefs can be found in naturally extreme conditions. Coral reefs in the intertidal there experience up 3 hours of aerial exposure, temperatures up to 37˚C, and highly variable daily temperatures with a 4C degree difference. The project I worked on for my dissertation was studying whether these corals held an adaptation that allowed them to thrive in this environment or had acclimatized, and whether they could improve or maintain their tolerance to high temperatures. Additionally the role of a diurnal variation in temperature of 4˚C on heat tolerance was examined.

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Experimental Tanks

To address these questions, intertidal Acropora aspera were either (de-)acclimatized to cooler, seasonal temperatures characteristic of Ningaloo Reef (another reef in Western Australia), acclimatized to 1°C warmer seasonal Kimberley temperatures, or held at seasonal Kimberley temperatures for 9 months. For my project I heat stressed them after these 9 months and then collected photochemical efficiency, calcification, photosynthesis, and respiration data to answer these questions.

My favorite method I learned was using pulse-amplitude modulated fluorometry. Using a machine with a fiber optic cable that gives a steady, low frequency light, you place the end of the cable to the coral and blast it with a bright light. The result, depending on the time of day you do it (day/night) results in a reading that determines photochemical efficiency of the zooxanthellae symbiont. Its a simple, but fun and easy way to assess corals! 🙂

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The findings will be presented at the European Coral Reef Symposium at Oxford University in December! Stay tuned.

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Bonus picture of a cheeky kangaroo I met a weekend I wasn’t stuck in the lab 🙂

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