A new study by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution has shed new light on the effects of coral chemical compounds.
Corals release these compounds through their metabolism, and while they vary considerably by species, they affect reef health and composition.
Research also found that the formation and release of these compounds is heavily influenced by human factors, such as climate change and overfishing. The study was conducted in the waters of the Caribbean, where the coral prevalence is slowly but surely changing. Soft octocorals are replacing hard stony corals as the dominant species in the area.
According to Laura Weber, a former postdoc and current information systems associate in WHOI’s Marine Chemistry & Geochemistry Department and study lead author:
“We wanted to know what are the molecules that coral organisms release into the environment, and how do those molecules impact the reef microbes in the seawater surrounding the corals. As the species composition of these reefs shifts, it is likely changing the chemicals that are released on the reef that then will have impacts on the microbial community. We need to pay more attention to how changes in reef structure and species composition might influence the microbes that live on the reef, leading to more feedbacks in terms of reef health.”
While Amy Apprill, an associate scientist in the same WHOI department and study co-author, stated:
“We are trying to build kind of a library of what microbes and metabolites are present on reefs. My dream is to be able to go out to a reef, take a bucket of reef water, screen it for microbes and metabolites, and be able to tell something about the health of that ecosystem. This is so important to do because the current methods to monitor reefs are highly visual-based, and it can take months or years to determine if coral is sick or growing. Metabolites and microbes have the potential to be really sensitive sensors for reef health.”
You can find the original study here.