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Can Palythoa cf. variabilis biochemical patterns be used to predict coral reef conservation state in Todos Os Santos Bay?

Campos, Priscilla, Pires, Adília, Figueira, Etelvina
Environmental research 2020 v.186 pp. 109504
Scleractinia, Symbiodinium, anthropogenic activities, antioxidants, biotransformation, climate change, coral reefs, corals, electron transport chain, enzymes, macroalgae, marine ecosystems, photosynthesis, pigments, symbiosis
Coral reefs are one of the most diverse, complex and productive marine ecosystems on the planet. Global climate change and other anthropogenic impacts have had a strong impact on the equilibrium of these ecosystems and causing the denominated “coral reef crisis”. One consequence of coral reef crisis is the phase shift in reef communities, where scleractinian corals responsible for the bioconstruction of the coralline building are replaced by macroalgae or soft corals. In Todos os Santos Bay (TSB) there is a rare case of phase shift caused by the soft coral Palythoa cf. variabilis. When in population outbreak, this coral species becomes dominant and leads to loss of scleractinian coral cover. Palythoa genus establishes a symbiotic relationship with dinoflagellate algae of the genus Symbiodinium, that is changed in phase shift coral reefs, but other alterations remain unknown. In this study, the metabolism (oxidative damage, antioxidant and biotransformation enzymes, electron transport chain activity and photosynthetic pigments) of P. cf. variabilis from reefs in different conservation states was studied to identify and relate if changes that may occur in the biochemical and metabolism of the coral might trigger the population outbreak, identify parameters recognizing if corals are in stress and assess if one or more parameters can reflect the level of stress organisms are experiencing. The results obtained evidenced a clear distinction in the biochemistry and metabolism of corals from conserved sites and sites in phase shift, and these changes may be the trigger for population outbreak. Some of the parameters were able to discriminate the level of stress corals are experiencing and may allow to recognize the most at-risk coral reefs that need immediate intervention and prevent the entry into or revert P. cf. variabilis outbreak and phase shift in coral reefs. Actions like these can be of vital importance for the preservation of TSB coral reefs and possibly for other threatened reefs worldwide.