In a rare finding, a group of researchers claim that the chemicals that the Coral reefs produce for communicating with others provide insights into a dynamic ecosystem. These organisms release hundreds of different compounds, which ultimately influence the chemistry of the seawater.
The compounds determine nutrient concentrations and the availability of vitamins and minerals essential to the plants and animals that inhabit coral reefs, said the study led by researchers at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of Hawai’i at Mānoa and other institutions. The research was supported by the US. National Science Foundation and took place at NSF’s Moorea Coral Reef Long-Term Ecological Research site.
The compounds — modified amino acids, vitamins and steroids — comprise the “smell” or “taste” of corals and algae in reefs, and will help to understand food web dynamics and the chemical ecology of these ecosystems, the study said. Although corals are fixed to the seafloor, these organisms interact via chemicals dissolved in water. The chemicals’ quantity, energy content and structural diversity have been a mystery to biologists. Until now, the researchers say, they did not have the analytical capabilities to study the thousands of different molecules that make up the coral reef “exometabolone.”
In the reefs surrounding Mo’orea in French Polynesia, the team collected specimens from two reef-building corals (boulder coral and cauliflower coral), one calcified red alga (crustose coralline algae), one brown alga, and one algal turf (a mix of microscopic filamentous algae). Then the researchers isolated and analyzed the molecules each organism releases into the seawater during photosynthesis in the daytime and at night when photosynthesis ceases.