Raw data, data products, & reproducible workflows for the study Rapid ecosystem-scale consequences of acute deoxygenation on a Caribbean reef.

Maggie D Johnson https://www.maggiedjohnson.com/ (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)https://www.whoi.edu/ , Jarrod J Scott https://metacrobe.github.io/ (Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute)https://stri.si.edu/ , Matthieu Leray https://www.matthieuleray.website/ (Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute)https://stri.si.edu/ , Noelle Lucey (Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute)https://stri.si.edu/ , Lucia Rodriguez (Universidad Autónoma de Baja California)http://www.uabc.mx/ , William Wied (Florida International University)https://www.fiu.edu/ , Andrew H Altieri https://www.altierilab.org (University of Florida)https://www.essie.ufl.edu/environmental-engineering-sciences/
July 27, 2021
Rapid ecosystem-scale consequences of acute deoxygenation on a Caribbean reef Johnson MD, Scott JJ, Leray M, Lucey N, Bravo LMR, Wied WL, Altieri AH Co-first authors

- Loss of oxygen in the global ocean is accelerating due to climate change & eutrophication.
- How does acute deoxygenation events affect tropical marine ecosystems?
- Integrate coral reef benthic communities with microbial community analyses.
- Deoxygenation event rapidly altered benthic communities & microbial assemblages.
- Event precipitated coral bleaching & mass mortality, 50% loss of live coral & a shift in the benthic community that persisted a year later.
- Hypoxia-associated microbes rapidly reverted to a normoxic assemblage one month after the event.
- Found a decoupling of ecological trajectories among major functional groups following an acute event.

Nature Communications 12 (2021) 🔗

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Dissolved oxygen (DO) concentrations in the ocean are declining at an unprecedented rate due to eutrophication and climate change. The corresponding increase in the occurrence of coastal hypoxic events, and resulting mass mortality of marine life, is threatening the persistence of ecologically and economically valuable ecosystems. Though hypoxic events have long been recognized to cause ecosystem collapse in temperate environments, similar consequences have only recently been identified in the tropics, where the effects on coral reef ecosystems remain poorly understood. Emerging evidence indicates that hypoxic events can decimate coral reefs, but the progress of a coral reef hypoxia event has yet to be captured in real-time.

Here we present the first account of an unfolding hypoxia event on a Caribbean coral reef, documenting the environmental parameters associated with the event that occurred in September 2017 and subsequent impacts on the ecosystem. We provide the first quantitative evidence that hypoxic events can precipitate coral bleaching and lead to dramatic shifts in reef benthic community structure that persist over time. We also describe how the microbial community overlying the reef benthos (~1 m above the seafloor) had a unique taxonomic fingerprint in hypoxic waters that dissipated with the return of oxygenated water.

Together our study demonstrates the catastrophic implications of a hypoxic event on multiple aspects of the coral reef ecosystems, from coral physiology to microbial community structure. Our results have alarming implications for coral reefs in an age where deoxygenation is accelerating rapidly. In order to truly understand how local and global environmental changes will affect the persistence of coral reefs into the future, ocean deoxygenation must be accounted for and incorporated into monitoring and managements frameworks.

Goals of the study

  1. Characterize the environmental conditions the occur during an in-progress, acute hypoxic event on a shallow Caribbean coral reef,
  2. Quantify the observed effect of the hypoxic event on coral bleaching and subsequent mortality using a representative coral species, Agaricia tenuifolia,
  3. Evaluate the effects of the hypoxic event on the benthic community through long-term benthic monitoring surveys before, during, and after the event,
  4. Assess the effects of the hypoxic event on the microbial community overlying the coral reef benthos, ~1 m above the seafloor.

Field Sites

Conditions characteristic of a low-oxygen event were detected in Bahía Almirante (Bocas del Toro, Panama) on September 20, 2017. Sampling was conducted inside the bay at the impacted site (Cayo Roldan, vermilion) and outside the bay at the control site (Coral Caye, blue).

Manuscript Visualization

Here is a word cloud of the manuscript, just for the fun of it ;) The size of each word in proportional to the number of times it appeared in the manuscript.

Stories & Reactions

Here are a two press pieces about our publication.

Caribbean Asphyxiation

STRI News 29 July 2021 🔗

What Happens to Marine Life When There Isn’t Enough Oxygen?

WHOI Media Relations Office 31 July 2021 🔗

And tweets from @coraloha, @MikeD_Fox, and @merenbey that made us smile really big. We couldn’t resist including these.


M.D.J. was funded by postdoctoral fellow awards from the Smithsonian Institution’s Marine Global Earth Observatory (MarineGEO) and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI); M.L. and N.L. were funded by postdoctoral support from the STRI Office of Fellowships. J.J.S. was funded by a grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation awarded to STRI and UC Davis (doi:10.37807/GBMF5603). L.M.R.B., W.L.W., and A.H.A. were supported by MarineGEO, a private funder, and STRI funds to A.H.A. Many of the computations were conducted on the Smithsonian High-Performance Cluster (SI/HPC), Smithsonian Institution (doi:10.25572/SIHPC). We thank Rachel Collin for facilities support at the Bocas del Toro Research Station, Plinio Gondola and the research station staff for logistical support, Roman Barco for insight into the functional analyses, Sherly Castro for informative feedback, and Mike Fox for assistance with community analyses. Research permits were provided by the Autoridad Nacional del Ambiente de Panamá. This paper is the result of research funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science Competitive Research Program under award NA18NOS4780170 to A.H.A. and M.D.J. through the University of Florida. This is contribution 257 from the Coastal Hypoxia Research Program and 86 from the Smithsonian’s MarineGEO and Tennenbaum Marine Observatories Network.

Author Contributions

M.D.J., J.J.S., M.L., N.L., and A.H.A. conceived and designed the study. M.D.J., N.L., L.M.R.B., and W.L.W. conducted surveys and collected field samples. N.L., L.M.R.B., and W.L.W. conducted laboratory analyses. J.J.S. and M.L. performed extractions and sample processing for sequencing. M.D.J., J.J.S., M.L., and N.L. conducted statistical analyses and created figures. M.D.J. and J.J.S. drafted the manuscript and supporting information, and managed revisions with input from all co-authors. Website created by J.J.S. with input and material from co-authors.

Data Availability

See the Data Availability for complete details on obtaining all data and data products for this study. Trimmed 16S rRNA (primers removed) sequence data generated in this study are deposited in the European Nucleotide Archive (ENA) under Project Accession number PRJEB36632 (ERP119845), sample accession numbers ERS4291994-ERS4292031. Raw 16S rRNA fastq files can be accessed through the Smithsonian figshare, doi:10.25573/data.11819745. The metagenomic sequence data generated in this study are deposited in the ENA under Project Accession number PRJEB36632 (ERP119845), sample accession numbers ERS4578390-ERS4578393. Related data and data products for individual analysis workflows are available through the Smithsonian figshare under the collection doi:10.25573/data.c.5025362.v1.

Code availability

All code, reproducible workflows, and further information on data availability can be found on the project website at https://hypocolypse.github.io/. The code embedded in the website is available on the Hypocolypse GitHub repo in R Markdown format. The version of code used in this study is archived under Hypocolypse Workflows v1.0, DOI identifier, doi:10.5281/zenodo.4940132.



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