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  • 1
    Publication Date: 2019-02-01
    Description: Despite the importance of deep-sea corals, our current understanding of their ecology and evolution is limited due to difficulties in sampling and studying deep-sea environments. Moreover, a recent re-evaluation of habitat limitations has been suggested after characterization of deep-sea corals in the Red Sea, where they live at temperatures of above 20 °C at low oxygen concentrations. To gain further insight into the biology of deep-sea corals, we produced reference transcriptomes and studied gene expression of three deep-sea coral species from the Red Sea, i.e. Dendrophyllia sp., Eguchipsammia fistula, and Rhizotrochus typus. Our analyses suggest that deep-sea coral employ mitochondrial hypometabolism and anaerobic glycolysis to manage low oxygen conditions present in the Red Sea. Notably, we found expression of genes related to surface cilia motion that presumably enhance small particle transport rates in the oligotrophic deep-sea environment. This is the first study to characterize transcriptomes and in situ gene expression for deep-sea corals. Our work offers several mechanisms by which deep-sea corals might cope with the distinct environmental conditions present in the Red Sea As such, our data provide direction for future research and further insight to organismal response of deep-sea coral to environmental change and ocean warming.
    Type: Article , PeerReviewed
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  • 2
    Publication Date: 2019-02-01
    Description: Coral reefs in the central Red Sea are sparsely studied and in situ data on physico-chemical and key biotic variables that provide an important comparative baseline are missing. To address this gap, we simultaneously monitored three reefs along a cross-shelf gradient for an entire year over four seasons, collecting data on currents, temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen (DO), chlorophyll-a, turbidity, inorganic nutrients, sedimentation, bacterial communities of reef water, and bacterial and algal composition of epilithic biofilms. Summer temperature (29–33°C) and salinity (39 PSU) exceeded average global maxima for coral reefs, whereas DO concentration was low (2–4 mg L-1). While temperature and salinity differences were most pronounced between seasons, DO, chlorophyll-a, turbidity, and sedimentation varied most between reefs. Similarly, biotic communities were highly dynamic between reefs and seasons. Differences in bacterial biofilms were driven by four abundant families: Rhodobacteraceae, Flavobacteriaceae, Flammeovirgaceae, and Pseudanabaenaceae. In algal biofilms, green crusts, brown crusts, and crustose coralline algae were most abundant and accounted for most of the variability of the communities. Higher bacterial diversity of biofilms coincided with increased algal cover during spring and summer. By employing multivariate matching, we identified temperature, salinity, DO, and chlorophyll-a as the main contributing physico-chemical drivers of biotic community structures. These parameters are forecast to change most with the progression of ocean warming and increased nutrient input, which suggests an effect on the recruitment of Red Sea benthic communities as a result of climate change and anthropogenic influence. In conclusion, our study provides insight into coral reef functioning in the Red Sea and a comparative baseline to support coral reef studies in the region.
    Type: Article , PeerReviewed
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  • 3
    Publication Date: 2019-02-01
    Description: Microbes associated with deep-sea corals remain poorly studied. The lack of symbiotic algae suggests that associated microbes may play a fundamental role in maintaining a viable coral host via acquisition and recycling of nutrients. Here we employed 16 S rRNA gene sequencing to study bacterial communities of three deep-sea scleractinian corals from the Red Sea, Dendrophyllia sp., Eguchipsammia fistula, and Rhizotrochus typus. We found diverse, species-specific microbiomes, distinct from the surrounding seawater. Microbiomes were comprised of few abundant bacteria, which constituted the majority of sequences (up to 58% depending on the coral species). In addition, we found a high diversity of rare bacteria (taxa at 〈1% abundance comprised 〉90% of all bacteria). Interestingly, we identified anaerobic bacteria, potentially providing metabolic functions at low oxygen conditions, as well as bacteria harboring the potential to degrade crude oil components. Considering the presence of oil and gas fields in the Red Sea, these bacteria may unlock this carbon source for the coral host. In conclusion, the prevailing environmental conditions of the deep Red Sea (〉20 °C, 〈2 mg oxygen L−1) may require distinct functional adaptations, and our data suggest that bacterial communities may contribute to coral functioning in this challenging environment.
    Type: Article , PeerReviewed
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  • 4
    Publication Date: 2019-02-01
    Description: Scleractinian corals are assumed to be stenohaline osmoconformers, although they are frequently subjected to variations in seawater salinity due to precipitation, freshwater run-off and other processes. Observed responses to altered salinity levels include differences in photosynthetic performance, respiration and increased bleaching and mortality of the coral host and its algal symbiont, but a study looking at bacterial community changes is lacking. Here, we exposed the coral Fungia granulosa to strongly increased salinity levels in short- and long-term experiments to disentangle temporal and compartment effects of the coral holobiont (i.e. coral host, symbiotic algae and associated bacteria). Our results show a significant reduction in calcification and photosynthesis, but a stable microbiome after short-term exposure to high-salinity levels. By comparison, long-term exposure yielded unchanged photosynthesis levels and visually healthy coral colonies indicating long-term acclimation to high-salinity levels that were accompanied by a major coral microbiome restructuring. Importantly, a bacterium in the family Rhodobacteraceae was succeeded by Pseudomonas veronii as the numerically most abundant taxon. Further, taxonomy-based functional profiling indicates a shift in the bacterial community towards increased osmolyte production, sulphur oxidation and nitrogen fixation. Our study highlights that bacterial community composition in corals can change within days to weeks under altered environmental conditions, where shifts in the microbiome may enable adjustment of the coral to a more advantageous holobiont composition.
    Type: Article , PeerReviewed
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  • 5
    Publication Date: 2017-12-21
    Description: The presence of the cosmopolitan deep-sea coral Eguchipsammia fistula has recently been documented in the Red Sea, occurring in warm (〉20 °C), oxygen- and nutrient-limited habitats. We collected colonies of this species from the central Red Sea that successfully resided in aquaria for more than one year. During this period the corals were exposed to increased oxygen levels and nutrition ad libitum unlike in their natural habitat. Specimens of long-term reared E. fistula colonies were incubated for 24 h and calcification (G) as well as respiration rates (R) were measured. In comparison to on-board measurements of G and R rates on freshly collected specimens, we found that G was increased while R was decreased. E. fistula shows extensive tissue growth and polyp proliferation in aquaculture and can be kept at conditions that notably differ from its natural habitat. Its ability to cope with rapid and prolonged changes in regard to prevailing environmental conditions indicates a wide physiological plasticity. This may explain in part the cosmopolitan distribution of this species and emphasizes its value as a deep-sea coral model to study mechanisms of acclimation and adaptation.
    Type: Article , PeerReviewed
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  • 6
    Publication Date: 2019-02-01
    Description: The existence of coral reef ecosystems critically relies on the reef carbonate framework produced by scleractinian corals and calcareous crusts (i.e., crustose coralline algae). While the Red Sea harbors one of the longest connected reef systems in the world, detailed calcification data are only available from the northernmost part. To fill this knowledge gap, we measured in situ calcification rates of primary and secondary reef builders in the central Red Sea. We collected data on the major habitat-forming coral genera Porites, Acropora, and Pocillopora and also on calcareous crusts (CC) in a spatio-seasonal framework. The scope of the study comprised sheltered and exposed sites of three reefs along a cross-shelf gradient and over four seasons of the year. Calcification of all coral genera was consistent across the shelf and highest in spring. In addition, Pocillopora showed increased calcification at exposed reef sites. In contrast, CC calcification increased from nearshore, sheltered to offshore, exposed reef sites, but also varied over seasons. Comparing our data to other reef locations, calcification in the Red Sea was in the range of data collected from reefs in the Caribbean and Indo-Pacific; however, Acropora calcification estimates were at the lower end of worldwide rates. Our study shows that the increasing coral cover from nearshore to offshore environments aligned with CC calcification but not coral calcification, highlighting the potentially important role of CC in structuring reef cover and habitats. While coral calcification maxima have been typically observed during summer in many reef locations worldwide, calcification maxima during spring in the central Red Sea indicate that summer temperatures exceed the optima of reef calcifiers in this region. This study provides a foundation for comparative efforts and sets a baseline to quantify impact of future environmental change in the central Red Sea.
    Type: Article , PeerReviewed
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