Enhancing Hawaii’s Coral Restoration Efforts Through Student Research

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Left to right, Gyasi Alexander and Shayle Matsuda conducting fieldwork.

Climate change-induced ocean warming has reshaped reef ecosystems as episodes of coral bleaching continue to drive mass coral mortality around the world. A study conducted by the University of Hawaii in Mānoa, student researchers found that exposing rice coral larvae to warmer temperatures did not improve survival once the coral had developed into juveniles and had been exposed to heat stress.

Coral restoration efforts in Hawaii are extensive and include the selective breeding of more resilient corals, the active management of vulnerable areas, and the planting of laboratory-reared corals.

Shayle Matsuda and Ariana Huffmyermarine biology graduate students uh Mānoa School of Ocean and Land Science and Technology (SOEST), were tasked with optimizing coral restoration efforts. At the Inclusive Science Communication Symposium, Matsuda met Gyasi Alexander, an undergraduate student at the University of Rhode Island, and invited him to participate in a summer internship at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology (HIMB) in SOEST.

Expose the larvae to different temperatures

students working on computer
Ariana Huffmyer (left) and Gyasi Alexander (middle) working in the lab.

The team’s approach was to start with gametes collected during mass spawning events and grow them to the larval stage, with the long-term goal of planting more coral on the reef.

“While this process can provide more genetic diversity to the reef than fragmentation practices alone, it is time-consuming, labor-intensive, and capital-intensive, and downstream survival of corals can be affected by global warming events. ‘ocean,’ said Matsuda, who is now a postdoctoral fellow. at the Shedd Aquarium. “With this study, we wanted to test whether exposing larvae to different temperatures would increase both larval survival and settlement, and importantly, whether exposure to high temperatures as larvae would lead to increased thermal tolerance. , i.e. higher survival, in the juvenile stage.”

“However, we don’t have a good understanding of the degree, time, and profile of stress required to produce positive carryover effects and, if effects occur, how long they last,” added Huffmyer, now a researcher. postdoctoral fellowship at the University. University of Rhode Island.

In their experiments, the researchers, including HIMB coral ecologist Josh Hancock, found that raising temperature to simulate future ocean warming did not improve larval survival and did not improve survival after larval settlement. Instead, their results suggest that rearing rice corals at ambient temperatures maximizes survival in early life.

“As climate change intensifies, it’s critical that we focus our restoration and conservation strategies on those that will have the greatest positive impact,” Huffmyer said. “Since we have found that thermal conditioning does not provide positive benefits for thermal tolerance in recruits of this species, we suggest that our time and resources are better spent pursuing other avenues of thermal conditioning and further test thermal conditioning scenarios that can produce positive impacts.”

This effort is an example of uh Mānoa’s goal of research excellence: to advance the enterprise of research and creative work (PDF) and Improving Student Achievement (PDF), two of the four objectives defined in the Strategic Plan 2015-2025 (PDF), updated December 2020.

For more information, see SOESTthe website of.

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