CORALS CALCIFY COLORFULLY?
How light and color influence corals
Graduate Student: Jennifer Smolenski
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
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