CORALS CALCIFY COLORFULLY?

How light and color influence corals

Graduate Student: Jennifer Smolenski

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Coral reefs are very dynamic systems with corals creating the physical backbone of the reef. With climate change becoming an ever increasing reality, it's more important than ever to understand how corals will react to these changing conditions. One way in which corals are believed to be affected is by ocean acidification (OA). As industrial development increases, so does the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. Much of this carbon dissolves into the ocean changing its chemical makeup and lowering its pH-turning it more acidic. Coral skeletons are made up of a type of limestone, which dissolves when exposed to more acidic waters, therefore, possibly changing the structure of the reef.

One way in which corals acquire energy is through photosynthesizing symbionts. These are tiny algal cells that live inside the coral's tissue, which collect sunlight and turn it into useable energy for the coral, which can be put towards calcification-the construction of their skeleton. Underwater, sunlight breaks down into different wavelengths-or colors. These wavelengths are what the symbionts collect to produce energy for the coral.

Jennifer Smolenski hypothesizes that there could be an interaction between calcification and these different wavelengths available to the symbionts, and possibly further explain how corals will react to OA. By placing corals in acidic water and growing them underneath different colored light, Jennifer is examining how corals calcify under these different conditions. Continuing on with these studies, she plans to further investigate the effects of different wavelengths upon other coral biological processes and their interaction with OA, hoping to better understand how coral reefs will respond to future climatic changes.

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