Bio-physical interactions on a coral reef island (Leichter et al., Oceanography)

Biological and Physical Interactions on a Tropical Island Coral Reef: Transport and Retention Processes on Moorea, French Polynesia

Leichter, J.J., Alldredge, A.L., Bernadi, G., Brooks, A.J., Carlson, C.A., Carpenter, R.C., Edmunds, P.J., Fewings, M.R., Hanson, K.M., Holbrook, S.J., Hench, J.L., Nelson, C.E., Schmitt, R.J., Toonen, R.J., Washburn, L. and Wyatt, A.S.J.

The Moorea Coral Reef Long Term Ecological Research project funded by the US National Science Foundation includes multidisciplinary studies of physical processes driving ecological dynamics across the fringing reef, back reef, and fore reef habitats of Moorea, French Polynesia. A network of oceanographic moorings and a variety of other approaches have been used to investigate the biological and biogeochemical aspects of water transport and retention processes in this system. There is evidence to support the hypothesis that a low-frequency counterclockwise flow around the island is superimposed on the relatively strong alongshore currents on each side of the island. Despite the rapid flow and flushing of the back reef, waters over the reef display chemical and biological characteristics distinct from those offshore. The patterns include higher nutrient and lower dissolved organic carbon concentrations, distinct microbial community compositions among habitats, and reef assemblages of zooplankton that exhibit migration behavior, suggesting multigenerational residence on the reef. Zooplankton consumption by planktivorous fish on the reef reflects both retention of reef-associated taxa and capture by the reef community of resources originating offshore. Coral recruitment and population genetics of reef fishes point to retention of larvae within the system and high recruitment levels from local adult populations. The combined results suggest that a broad suite of physical and biological processes contribute to high retention of externally derived and locally produced organic materials within this island coral reef system.

Organic Matter Release by Benthic Primary Producers (Haas et al., PLoS One)

Effects of Coral Reef Benthic Primary Producers on Dissolved Organic Carbon and Microbial Activity

Andreas F. Haas, Craig E. Nelson, Linda Wegley Kelly, Craig A. Carlson, Forest Rohwer, James J. Leichter, Alex Wyatt, Jennifer E. Smith

Benthic primary producers in marine ecosystems may significantly alter biogeochemical cycling and microbial processes in their surrounding environment. To examine these interactions, we studied dissolved organic matter release by dominant benthic taxa and subsequent microbial remineralization in the lagoonal reefs of Moorea, French Polynesia. Rates of photosynthesis, respiration, and dissolved organic carbon (DOC) release were assessed for several common benthic reef organisms from the backreef habitat. We assessed microbial community response to dissolved exudates of each benthic producer by measuring bacterioplankton growth, respiration, and DOC drawdown in two-day dark dilution culture incubations. Experiments were conducted for six benthic producers: three species of macroalgae (each representing a different algal phylum: Turbinaria ornata – Ochrophyta; Amansia rhodantha – Rhodophyta; Halimeda opuntia – Chlorophyta), a mixed assemblage of turf algae, a species of crustose coralline algae (Hydrolithon reinboldii) and a dominant hermatypic coral (Porites lobata). Our results show that all five types of algae, but not the coral, exuded significant amounts of labile DOC into their surrounding environment. In general, primary producers with the highest rates of photosynthesis released the most DOC and yielded the greatest bacterioplankton growth; turf algae produced nearly twice as much DOC per unit surface area than the other benthic producers (14.0±2.8 µmol h−1 dm−2), stimulating rapid bacterioplankton growth (0.044±0.002 log10 cells h−1) and concomitant oxygen drawdown (0.16±0.05 µmol L−1 h−1 dm−2). Our results demonstrate that benthic reef algae can release a significant fraction of their photosynthetically-fixed carbon as DOC, these release rates vary by species, and this DOC is available to and consumed by reef associated microbes. These data provide compelling evidence that benthic primary producers differentially influence reef microbial dynamics and biogeochemical parameters (i.e., DOC and oxygen availability, bacterial abundance and metabolism) in coral reef communities.