CH-CH-CH-CH-CHANGES: HOW REEFS WILL TURN AND FACE OA

Graduate Student: Beth Lenz

Beth Lenz is currently a graduate student at California State University, Northridge and a National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellow. After she completes her MSc, she will continue studying tropical coral reef ecology and physiology at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology at the University of Hawaii at Manoa for her Ph.D. with Dr. Ruth Gates.

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Tropical coral reefs are one of the most beautiful and diverse ecosystems in the world. Unfortunately, these reef-building corals are threatened by human activities, such as carbon emissions, which result in Global Climate Change (GCC). Carbon released from fossil fuel use is absorbed into our oceans, altering seawater chemistry to create acidic conditions. This process is known as ocean acidification (OA) and can have detrimental effects on how corals function (respire, reproduce, grow, and eat). It is important for researchers to understand the responses of reef building corals in future OA conditions to pinpoint key traits that are most sensitive and tolerant to better conserve corals. Most recently, coral biologists are trying to figures out what characteristics make a coral a "winner" or "loser".

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Reef-building corals come in all shapes and sizes. Corals have branching, flat, encrusting, and even bumpy shapes. Corals of the same species may have a different shape because of the environment they live in. Beth Lenz focuses her research on understanding how tropical coral reefs will change in the future. In Moorea, French Polynesia, Beth is trying to determine if coral shape can be used as an indicator for weakness or tolerance against OA conditions. For her master’s, she tested the effects of OA on the calcification rates (how quickly a coral skeleton grows) of the abundant coral species Porites rus. This stony coral species was selected because it forms branches and plates in high and low light conditions, respectively. She tested for interactive effects of OA, light, temperature and flow on the different coral shapes within P. rus to determine sensitivity between branched and plated skeletons. For her experiments, she changed seawater chemistry to mimic future conditions and kept her coral samples in aquariums inside the wet laboratory at the Richard B. Gump South Pacific Research Station.


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