Friday, December 23, 2011
Coral reefs are extremely diverse ecosystems that support enormous biodiversity. But they are at risk. Carbon dioxide emissions are acidifying the ocean, threatening reefs and other marine organisms. New research led by Carnegie's Kenneth Schneider analyzed the role of sea cucumbers in portions of the Great Barrier Reef and determined that their dietary process of dissolving calcium carbonate (CaCO3) from the surrounding reef accounts for about half of at the total nighttime dissolution for the reef.
The work is published December 23 by the Journal of Geophysical Research.
Reefs are formed through the biological deposition of calcium carbonate (CaCO3). Many of the marine organisms living on and around a reef contribute to either its destruction or construction. Therefore it is crucial that the amount of calcium carbonate remain in balance. When this delicate balance is disrupted, the reef ceases to grow and its foundations can be weakened.
In order to fully understand a reef's ability to deposit carbonate and grow, it is necessary to understand the roles that the various elements of sea life play in this process. This is especially important because increased atmospheric carbon dioxide is predicted to decrease the amount of carbonate available due to acidification.
The research group set out to examine the role that sea cucumbers play in the reef environment.
Schneider's team included Carnegie's Ken Caldeira, as well as Jacob Silverman, of the Israeli Limnology and Oceanography Institute; Maria Byrne and Erika Woolsey, both of the University of Sydney and the latter also from James Cook University; and Hampus Eriksson of Stockholm University.