Dr. M. Fine's Lab
Environmental and Global Research of Aquatic Systems
Based at the Interuniversity Institute for Marine Sciences in Eilat, Dr. Maoz Fine of the Mina and Everard Goodman Faculty of Life Sciences runs in-situ as well as lab-based experiments to examine coral physiology and ecology under climate change conditions.
Examining various coral species, he is characterizing physiological and ecological responses of marine ecosystems to environmental change.
Fine’s work sheds light on fundamental physiological mysteries, while at the same time providing evidence that helps explain the changing levels of coral community structure revealed in the fossil record.
Species-Specific Responses to Climate Change and Ocean Acidification
The working hypothesis for this project states that corals, the framework builders of tropical and subtropical coral reefs, respond differently to decreased ocean pH.
Some coral species are more resilient than others, which may lead to shifts in species composition when environmental conditions of ocean acidification, in combination with warming seas, cross species-specific thresholds.
Fine and his team observe differential responses in space, along a depth gradient and across isotherms, as well as time, e.g. fast-growing vs. slow-growing corals, and seasonal variations. Coral growth rate and skeletal density may also be altered in response to acidification.
While corals in tropical regions are relatively fast growers, deeper water corals, at depths of 50-60 meters, generally grow much slower and are more heterotrophic. Fine and his group are investigating whether or not coral species that grow faster ultimately cope better with reduced ?-arg and an increasing rate of dissolution. Similarly, they are studying whether denser skeletons are ‘better’ than less dense skeletons.
Vermetid Reefs in the Mediterranean Under Climatic Change
The Mediterranean Sea is affected by variability in both global and local climates. It is in a highly vulnerable semi-enclosed basin where profound and complex changes are commonly observed. Vermetids are sessile gastropods found in tropical and subtropical seas with a tubular, irregularly uncoiled shell cemented (in the adult organisms) to hard substrates such as corals or rocks.
Highly dense vermetid populations form reefs along Mediterranean coasts. The importance of the reefs lies in the richness of life they sustain, in their rarity, and in the physical protection from erosion they provide the shoreline. Their location in the meso- and infralittoral zones places vermetid reefs at risk from coastal development and pollution.
The D. petraeum species are particularly threatened and in need of protection. Fine’s team aims to better understand how global warming, sea level rise and ocean acidification are likely to affect the vermetids and their role as an engineering species.
Endolithic Algae in Coral Skeletons
In 2002, Fine’s team revealed that endolithic algae found in coral skeletons may serve as an alternative source of photoassimilates to corals during bleaching events, thus enhancing skeleton dissolution.
This is particularly important under ocean acidification conditions where water chemistry compromises calcification. In addition, they demonstrated that the endolithic community, composing green algae, fungi and bacteria, are not only affected by both chemical and physical environmental conditions, but may affect coral health and facilitate its survival under stressful conditions.
A recent study by Fine’s group discovered that endolithic algae, usually referred to as the species Ostreobium quekettii, is in fact a complex of many different clades. Some of the clades are coral species specific and/or dominant in particular depth ranges.