“Coral population biology in the Southwestern Atlantic and its symbiotic association”
Prof. Carla Zilberberg
Instituto de Biologia / Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro
Brazil has the only true biogenic coral reefs in the Southwestern Atlantic Ocean and are singular due to their low coral species diversity, combined with a high degree endemism. As with most reefs worldwide, Brazilian reefs are suffering from global and local anthropogenic impacts and conservation efforts have slowly been undertaken with the establishment of marine protected areas. However, most conservation efforts so far have failed to incorporate different aspects of coral biology, such as reef connectivity, genetic diversity and others, which could affect management decisions to where and how much of an area needs to be preserved. Additionally, in Brazil, very little is known about the host-symbiont association that is critical for assessing the susceptibility of corals to climate changes. In this sense, my Laboratory has been focusing on studying coral population connectivity along the Brazilian coast and better understanding the relationship between corals and its dinoflagellates symbionts, the zooxanthellae. In terms of connectivity we have focused on one endemic reef building coral (Mussismilia hispida), a coral with the highest distributional range in the Atlantic Ocean (Madracis decactis) and also two invasive azooxanthellate coral species (Tubastraea coccinea and T. tagusensis). With respect to the relationship coral-algae we are examining “species” diversity of zooxanthella among different anthozoan species, primarily corals, along their distributional range in Brazil and other Atlantic localities. Finally, we have been investigating the effect of temperature and acidification on the coral-algae association to further understand how can species cope with global climate change.