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Limited Iron Availability Shown to Exacerbate Coral Bleaching

UMaine researchers Malcolm Shick and Mark Wells measuring the photosynthetic efficiency of Stylophora pistillata in shallow water at Davies Reef, Great Barrier Reef

UMaine researchers Malcolm Shick and Mark Wells measuring the photosynthetic efficiency of Stylophora pistillata in shallow water at Davies Reef, Great Barrier Reef

It is widely held that coral bleaching occurs when temperatures and solar radiation are high, overwhelming antioxidant defenses in the algal endosymbionts and their coral hosts. Little understood are the biological mechanisms underlying such destabilization under stressful conditions.

An international research team led by marine biologist Malcolm Shick and chemical oceanographer Mark Wells of the University of Maine School of Marine Sciences studied the symbiotic coral Stylophora pistillata from the Great Barrier Reef to fathom the role of iron limitation on coral bleaching. Iron and other trace metals are essential for photosynthesis, antioxidant defenses and other metabolic processes.

Stylophora pistillata at Myrmidon Reef, Great Barrier Reef

Stylophora pistillata at Myrmidon Reef, Great Barrier Reef

Their study is the first to demonstrate that limited iron availability exacerbated the high-temperature stress in S. pistillataby decreasing its photosynthetic efficiency and antioxidant defenses.

The implication is that the degree of coral stress in natural environments under high light and temperature may be modulated by trace-metal nutrition.

The findings of the research team, which included scientists from the University of Western Ontario, King’s College London and the Australian Institute of Marine Science, were published in the journal Limnology and Oceanography.

Contact: Malcolm Shick, 207-581-2562; Mark Wells, 207-581-4322

Stylophora pistollata at Pith Reef, Great Barrier Reef

Stylophora pistollata at Pith Reef, Great Barrier Reef

Stylophora pistillata at Little Broadurst Reef, Great Barrier Reef

Stylophora pistillata at Little Broadurst Reef, Great Barrier Reef

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