Coral reef ecosystems are experiencing unprecedented levels of environmental stress. Guam, Micronesia is currently experiencing an island-wide coral bleaching event unprecedented in recent decades. The available evidence suggests that the severity and extent of this event is linked to extended high sea surface temperature and a delay in the onset of the rainy season. Initial surveys of coral reefs around the island indicate that the impacts are broad in both geographic extent and the number of coral species affected. This project will support a quantitative examination of the patterns of mortality and recovery of corals from this event in the context of reef resilience, or their ability to recover. Specifically, the project will examine whether: (a) exposure differences between the east and west sides of the island result in differential recovery, and (b) do sites that showed lower bleaching severity during initial surveys show higher recovery post-bleaching? It is predicted that differential bleaching is due, in part, to genetic differences in both the coral host and its symbiotic algae and identifying unique host-symbiont combinations that are less sensitive to extreme temperature anomalies will be a primary goal of this project. These hypotheses and predictions will be addressed by returning to a select subset of reef sites over time by a rapid response team using survey methods as employed at the NSF funded Moorea Coral Reef Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) site which includes permanent transects and fixed quadrats, and computer software to document changes in the percent cover of corals over time. Additionally, long-term monitoring of tagged colonies in the genera Acropora and Pocillopora, specifically for their recovery, and for detailed genetic analyses to examine host and symbiont genetic diversity, will help determine which combinations of host-symbiont genotypes are exhibiting recovery versus mortality.

The proposed work will reveal which specific sites, environmental conditions, and genotypes are associated with resilience to coral bleaching and will allow establishment of a system whereby long-term recovery can be documented and also compared to the Moorea LTER data on coral reef resilience. Such data sets are rare or non-existent in Micronesia and the ability to identify resilient populations can provide information to help prioritize management efforts and evaluate the performance of existing marine parks and preserves.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Ocean Sciences (OCE)
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Michael Sieracki
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American University
United States
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