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  1. Abstract

    Submarine groundwater discharge (SGD) is an important transporter of solutes and fresh water in coastal systems worldwide. In high island systems with a mixed semidiurnal tidal cycle driving SGD, coastal biogeochemistry is temporally and spatially variable. Past studies have shown that SGD covaries with the local species composition, diversity, and richness of biological communities on a scale of meters. Empirical orthogonal function analyses (EOF)—a method analogous to principal components analysis which finds spatial patterns of variability and their time variation period—were used to define both the spatial and temporal variation in SGD using spatially resolved time series of salinity. The first two EOFs represented variability at the tidal 12‐h period and the daily 24‐h period, respectively, and were responsible for more than 50% of the SGD‐derived salinity variability. We used the first two EOFs to explore spatiotemporally explicit patterns in SGD variability and their relationships with benthic community structure in reef systems. Distance‐based linear models found significant relationships between multivariate community structure and variability in SGD at different periods. Taxa‐specific logistic regressions showed that zoanthids and turf are more likely to be present in areas with high tidally driven SGD variability, while the inverse relationship is true for the invasive rhodophyteAcanthophora spicifera, calcifying macroalgae, the native rhodophytePterocladiellasp., the cyanobacteriaLyngbyasp., and the invasive chlorophyteAvrainvillea amadelpha. These results show that benthic communities vary with respect to SGD derived salinity at the scale of hundreds of meters resulting in spatially heterogeneous biotic patches.

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  2. Abstract

    Ocean warming is causing global coral bleaching events to increase in frequency, resulting in widespread coral mortality and disrupting the function of coral reef ecosystems. However, even during mass bleaching events, many corals resist bleaching despite exposure to abnormally high temperatures. While the physiological effects of bleaching have been well documented, the consequences of heat stress for bleaching‐resistant individuals are not well understood. In addition, much remains to be learned about how heat stress affects cellular‐level processes that may be overlooked at the organismal level, yet are crucial for coral performance in the short term and ecological success over the long term. Here we compared the physiological and cellular responses of bleaching‐resistant and bleaching‐susceptible corals throughout the 2019 marine heatwave in Hawai'i, a repeat bleaching event that occurred 4 years after the previous regional event. Relative bleaching susceptibility within species was consistent between the two bleaching events, yet corals of both resistant and susceptible phenotypes exhibited pronounced metabolic depression during the heatwave. At the cellular level, bleaching‐susceptible corals had lower intracellular pH than bleaching‐resistant corals at the peak of bleaching for both symbiont‐hosting and symbiont‐free cells, indicating greater disruption of acid–base homeostasis in bleaching‐susceptible individuals. Notably, cells from both phenotypes were unable to compensate for experimentally induced cellular acidosis, indicating that acid–base regulation was significantly impaired at the cellular level even in bleaching‐resistant corals and in cells containing symbionts. Thermal disturbances may thus have substantial ecological consequences, as even small reallocations in energy budgets to maintain homeostasis during stress can negatively affect fitness. These results suggest concern is warranted for corals coping with ocean acidification alongside ocean warming, as the feedback between temperature stress and acid–base regulation may further exacerbate the physiological effects of climate change.

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  3. Abstract

    Coral bleaching is the single largest global threat to coral reefs worldwide. Integrating the diverse body of work on coral bleaching is critical to understanding and combating this global problem. Yet investigating the drivers, patterns, and processes of coral bleaching poses a major challenge. A recent review of published experiments revealed a wide range of experimental variables used across studies. Such a wide range of approaches enhances discovery, but without full transparency in the experimental and analytical methods used, can also make comparisons among studies challenging. To increase comparability but not stifle innovation, we propose a common framework for coral bleaching experiments that includes consideration of coral provenance, experimental conditions, and husbandry. For example, reporting the number of genets used, collection site conditions, the experimental temperature offset(s) from the maximum monthly mean (MMM) of the collection site, experimental light conditions, flow, and the feeding regime will greatly facilitate comparability across studies. Similarly, quantifying common response variables of endosymbiont (Symbiodiniaceae) and holobiont phenotypes (i.e., color, chlorophyll, endosymbiont cell density, mortality, and skeletal growth) could further facilitate cross‐study comparisons. While no single bleaching experiment can provide the data necessary to determine global coral responses of all corals to current and future ocean warming, linking studies through a common framework as outlined here, would help increase comparability among experiments, facilitate synthetic insights into the causes and underlying mechanisms of coral bleaching, and reveal unique bleaching responses among genets, species, and regions. Such a collaborative framework that fosters transparency in methods used would strengthen comparisons among studies that can help inform coral reef management and facilitate conservation strategies to mitigate coral bleaching worldwide.

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  4. Submarine groundwater discharge (SGD) in high volcanic islands can be an important source of freshwater and nutrients to coral reefs. High inorganic nutrient content is generally thought to augment primary production in coastal systems but when this is delivered via a freshwater vector as is the case with SGD in this study, the effects on productivity are unclear. In the current literature, there is limited evidence for a direct association between SGD and primary productivity of reefs. To elucidate the response of primary productivity to SGD, we conducted spatially and temporally explicit in situ benthic chamber experiments on a reef flat along a gradient of SGD. We found significant quadratic relationships between C-uptake and SGD for both phytoplankton and the most abundant macroalga, Gracilaria salicornia , with uptake maxima at SGD-derived salinities of ~21−22 (24.5−26.6 μmol NO 3 -L −1 ). These results suggest a physiological tradeoff between salinity tolerance and nutrient availability for reef primary producers. Spatially explicit modeling of reefs with SGD and without SGD indicate reef-scale G. salicornia and phytoplankton C-uptake decreased by 82% and 36% in the absence of SGD, respectively. Thus, nutrient-rich and low salinity SGD has significant effects on algal C-uptake in reef systems. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available June 20, 2024
  5. Free, publicly-accessible full text available March 1, 2024
  6. Abstract Background Management actions that address local-scale stressors on coral reefs can rapidly improve water quality and reef ecosystem condition. In response to reef managers who need actionable thresholds for coastal runoff and dredging, we conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of experimental studies that explore the effects of sediment on corals. We identified exposure levels that ‘adversely’ affect corals while accounting for sediment bearing (deposited vs. suspended), coral life-history stage, and species, thus providing empirically based estimates of stressor thresholds on vulnerable coral reefs. Methods We searched online databases and grey literature to obtain a list of potential studies, assess their eligibility, and critically appraise them for validity and risk of bias. Data were extracted from eligible studies and grouped by sediment bearing and coral response to identify thresholds in terms of the lowest exposure levels that induced an adverse physiological and/or lethal effect. Meta-regression estimated the dose–response relationship between exposure level and the magnitude of a coral’s response, with random-effects structures to estimate the proportion of variance explained by factors such as study and coral species. Review findings After critical appraisal of over 15,000 records, our systematic review of corals’ responses to sediment identified 86 studies to be included in meta-analyses (45 studies for deposited sediment and 42 studies for suspended sediment). The lowest sediment exposure levels that caused adverse effects in corals were well below the levels previously described as ‘normal’ on reefs: for deposited sediment, adverse effects occurred as low as 1 mg/cm 2 /day for larvae (limited settlement rates) and 4.9 mg/cm 2 /day for adults (tissue mortality); for suspended sediment, adverse effects occurred as low as 10 mg/L for juveniles (reduced growth rates) and 3.2 mg/L for adults (bleaching and tissue mortality). Corals take at least 10 times longer to experience tissue mortality from exposure to suspended sediment than to comparable concentrations of deposited sediment, though physiological changes manifest 10 times faster in response to suspended sediment than to deposited sediment. Threshold estimates derived from continuous response variables (magnitude of adverse effect) largely matched the lowest-observed adverse-effect levels from a summary of studies, or otherwise helped us to identify research gaps that should be addressed to better quantify the dose–response relationship between sediment exposure and coral health. Conclusions We compiled a global dataset that spans three oceans, over 140 coral species, decades of research, and a range of field- and lab-based approaches. Our review and meta-analysis inform the no-observed and lowest-observed adverse-effect levels (NOAEL, LOAEL) that are used in management consultations by U.S. federal agencies. In the absence of more location- or species-specific data to inform decisions, our results provide the best available information to protect vulnerable reef-building corals from sediment stress. Based on gaps and limitations identified by our review, we make recommendations to improve future studies and recommend future synthesis to disentangle the potentially synergistic effects of multiple coral-reef stressors. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available December 1, 2023
  7. Abstract Work on marine biofilms has primarily focused on host-associated habitats for their roles in larval recruitment and disease dynamics; little is known about the factors regulating the composition of reef environmental biofilms. To contrast the roles of succession, benthic communities and nutrients in structuring marine biofilms, we surveyed bacteria communities in biofilms through a six-week succession in aquaria containing macroalgae, coral, or reef sand factorially crossed with three levels of continuous nutrient enrichment. Our findings demonstrate how biofilm successional trajectories diverge from temporal dynamics of the bacterioplankton and how biofilms are structured by the surrounding benthic organisms and nutrient enrichment. We identify a suite of biofilm-associated bacteria linked with the orthogonal influences of corals, algae and nutrients and distinct from the overlying water. Our results provide a comprehensive characterization of marine biofilm successional dynamics and contextualize the impact of widespread changes in reef community composition and nutrient pollution on biofilm community structure. 
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  8. null (Ed.)
    Submarine groundwater discharge (SGD) influences near-shore coral reef ecosystems worldwide. SGD biogeochemistry is distinct, typically with higher nutrients, lower pH, cooler temperature and lower salinity than receiving waters. SGD can also be a conduit for anthropogenic nutrients and other pollutants. Using Bayesian structural equation modelling, we investigate pathways and feedbacks by which SGD influences coral reef ecosystem metabolism at two Hawai'i sites with distinct aquifer chemistry. The thermal and biogeochemical environment created by SGD changed net ecosystem production (NEP) and net ecosystem calcification (NEC). NEP showed a nonlinear relationship with SGD-enhanced nutrients: high fluxes of moderately enriched SGD (Wailupe low tide) and low fluxes of highly enriched SGD (Kūpikipiki'ō high tide) increased NEP, but high fluxes of highly enriched SGD (Kūpikipiki'ō low tide) decreased NEP, indicating a shift toward microbial respiration. pH fluctuated with NEP, driving changes in the net growth of calcifiers (NEC). SGD enhances biological feedbacks: changes in SGD from land use and climate change will have consequences for calcification of coral reef communities, and thereby shoreline protection. 
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