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  1. Abstract

    Intense rainfall from tropical cyclones has the potential to induce coastal acidification, which will become more common and severe as climate change continues. We collected carbonate chemistry samples from Galveston Bay, Texas before and after Hurricane Harvey in 2017 and 2018. Here, we show ecosystem level acidification and calcium carbonate undersaturation in Galveston Bay following the storm. This acidification event, driven by extreme rainfall from Harvey, persisted for over 3 weeks because of prolonged flood mitigation reservoir releases that continued for over a month after the storm. In addition, the large volume of stormwater led to high oyster mortality rates in Galveston Bay and acidification may have impeded recovery of these vital reefs. It is also likely that undersaturation has occurred outside of our study, unrecorded, following other high-rainfall storms. The projected increase in tropical cyclone rainfall under climate change may thus represent a significant threat to coastal calcifying ecosystems.

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  2. Villanueva, Laura (Ed.)
    ABSTRACT In July 2016, a severe coral reef invertebrate mortality event occurred approximately 200 km southeast of Galveston, Texas, at the East Flower Garden Bank, wherein ∼82% of corals in a 0.06-km 2 area died. Based on surveys of dead corals and other invertebrates shortly after this mortality event, responders hypothesized that localized hypoxia was the most likely direct cause. However, no dissolved oxygen data were available to test this hypothesis, because oxygen is not continuously monitored within the Flower Garden Banks sanctuary. Here, we quantify microbial plankton community diversity based on four cruises over 2 years at the Flower Garden Banks, including a cruise just 5 to 8 days after the mortality event was first observed. In contrast with observations collected during nonmortality conditions, microbial plankton communities in the thermocline were differentially enriched with taxa known to be active and abundant in oxygen minimum zones or that have known adaptations to oxygen limitation shortly after the mortality event (e.g., SAR324, Thioglobaceae , Nitrosopelagicus , and Thermoplasmata MGII). Unexpectedly, these enrichments were not localized to the East Bank but were instead prevalent across the entire study area, suggesting there was a widespread depletion of dissolved oxygen concentrations in the thermocline around the time of the mortality event. Hydrographic analysis revealed the southern East Bank coral reef (where the localized mortality event occurred) was uniquely within the thermocline at this time. Our results demonstrate how temporal monitoring of microbial communities can be a useful tool to address questions related to past environmental events. IMPORTANCE In the northwestern Gulf of Mexico in July 2016, ∼82% of corals in a small area of the East Flower Garden Bank coral reef suddenly died without warning. Oxygen depletion is believed to have been the cause. However, there was considerable uncertainty, as no oxygen data were available from the time of the event. Microbes are sensitive to changes in oxygen and can be used as bioindicators of oxygen loss. In this study, we analyze microbial communities in water samples collected over several years at the Flower Garden Banks, including shortly after the mortality event. Our findings indicate that compared to normal conditions, oxygen depletion was widespread in the deep-water layer during the mortality event. Hydrographic analysis of water masses further revealed some of this low-oxygen water likely upwelled onto the coral reef. 
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  3. null (Ed.)
  4. null (Ed.)
    Terrestrial runoff can negatively impact marine ecosystems through stressors including excess nutrients, freshwater, sediments, and contaminants. Severe storms, which are increasing with global climate change, generate massive inputs of runoff over short timescales (hours to days); such runoff impacted offshore reefs in the northwest Gulf of Mexico (NW GoM) following severe storms in 2016 and 2017. Several weeks after coastal flooding from these events, NW GoM reef corals, sponges, and other benthic invertebrates ∼185 km offshore experienced mortality (2016 only) and/or sub-lethal stress (both years). To assess the impact of storm-derived runoff on reef filter feeders, we characterized the bacterial communities of two sponges, Agelas clathrodes and Xestospongia muta , from offshore reefs during periods of sub-lethal stress and no stress over a three-year period (2016—2018). Sponge-associated and seawater-associated bacterial communities were altered during both flood years. Additionally, we found evidence of wastewater contamination (based on 16S rRNA gene libraries and quantitative PCR) in offshore sponge samples, but not in seawater samples, following these flood years. Signs of wastewater contamination were absent during the no-flood year. We show that flood events from severe storms have the capacity to reach offshore reef ecosystems and impact resident benthic organisms. Such impacts are most readily detected if baseline data on organismal physiology and associated microbiome composition are available. This highlights the need for molecular and microbial time series of benthic organisms in near- and offshore reef ecosystems, and the continued mitigation of stormwater runoff and climate change impacts. 
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  5. About 190 km south of the Texas–Louisiana border, the East and West Flower Garden Banks (FGB) have maintained > 50% coral cover with infrequent and minor incidents of disease or bleaching since monitoring began in the 1970s. However, a mortality event, affecting 5.6 ha (2.6% of the area) of the East FGB, occurred in late July 2016 and coincided with storm-generated freshwater runoff extending offshore and over the reef system. To capture the immediate effects of storm-driven freshwater runoff on coral and symbiont physiology, we leveraged the heavy rainfall associated with Hurricane Harvey in late August 2017 by sampling FGB corals at two time points: September 2017, when surface water salinity was reduced (∼34 ppt); and 1 month later when salinity had returned to typical levels (∼36 ppt in October 2017). Tissue samples (N = 47) collected midday were immediately preserved for gene expression profiling from two congeneric coral species (Orbicella faveolata and Orbicella franksi) from the East and West FGB to determine the physiological consequences of storm-derived runoff. In the coral, differences between host species and sampling time points accounted for the majority of differentially expressed genes. Gene ontology enrichment for genes differentially expressed immediately after Hurricane Harvey indicated increases in cellular oxidative stress responses. Although tissue loss was not observed on FGB reefs following Hurricane Harvey, our results suggest that poor water quality following this storm caused FGB corals to experience sub-lethal stress. We also found dramatic expression differences across sampling time points in the coral’s algal symbiont, Breviolum minutum. Some of these differentially expressed genes may be involved in the symbionts’ response to changing environments, including a group of differentially expressed post-transcriptional RNA modification genes. In this study, we cannot disentangle the effects of reduced salinity from the collection time point, so these expression patterns could also be related to seasonality. These findings highlight the urgent need for continued monitoring of these reef systems to establish a baseline for gene expression of healthy corals in the FGB system across seasons, as well as the need for integrated solutions to manage stormwater runoff in the Gulf of Mexico. 
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  6. Abstract A substantial body of research now exists demonstrating sensitivities of marine organisms to ocean acidification (OA) in laboratory settings. However, corresponding in situ observations of marine species or ecosystem changes that can be unequivocally attributed to anthropogenic OA are limited. Challenges remain in detecting and attributing OA effects in nature, in part because multiple environmental changes are co-occurring with OA, all of which have the potential to influence marine ecosystem responses. Furthermore, the change in ocean pH since the industrial revolution is small relative to the natural variability within many systems, making it difficult to detect, and in some cases, has yet to cross physiological thresholds. The small number of studies that clearly document OA impacts in nature cannot be interpreted as a lack of larger-scale attributable impacts at the present time or in the future but highlights the need for innovative research approaches and analyses. We summarize the general findings in four relatively well-studied marine groups (seagrasses, pteropods, oysters, and coral reefs) and integrate overarching themes to highlight the challenges involved in detecting and attributing the effects of OA in natural environments. We then discuss four potential strategies to better evaluate and attribute OA impacts on species and ecosystems. First, we highlight the need for work quantifying the anthropogenic input of CO2 in coastal and open-ocean waters to understand how this increase in CO2 interacts with other physical and chemical factors to drive organismal conditions. Second, understanding OA-induced changes in population-level demography, potentially increased sensitivities in certain life stages, and how these effects scale to ecosystem-level processes (e.g. community metabolism) will improve our ability to attribute impacts to OA among co-varying parameters. Third, there is a great need to understand the potential modulation of OA impacts through the interplay of ecology and evolution (eco–evo dynamics). Lastly, further research efforts designed to detect, quantify, and project the effects of OA on marine organisms and ecosystems utilizing a comparative approach with long-term data sets will also provide critical information for informing the management of marine ecosystems. 
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