Sandin Stuart A.

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Stuart A.

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Increasing coral reef resilience through successive marine heatwaves

2021-08-30 , Fox, Michael D. , Cohen, Anne L. , Rotjan, Randi , Mangubhai, Sangeeta , Sandin, Stuart A. , Smith, Jennifer E. , Thorrold, Simon R. , Dissly, Laura , Mollica, Nathaniel R. , Obura, David

Ocean warming is causing declines of coral reefs globally, raising critical questions about the potential for corals to adapt. In the central equatorial Pacific, reefs persisting through recurrent El Niño heatwaves hold important clues. Using an 18-year record of coral cover spanning three major bleaching events, we show that the impact of thermal stress on coral mortality within the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA) has lessened over time. Disproportionate survival of extreme thermal stress during the 2009–2010 and 2015–2016 heatwaves, relative to that in 2002–2003, suggests that selective mortality through successive heatwaves may help shape coral community responses to future warming. Identifying and facilitating the conditions under which coral survival and recovery can keep pace with rates of warming are essential first steps toward successful stewardship of coral reefs under 21st century climate change.

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Brilliantia kiribatiensis, a new genus and species of Cladophorales (Chlorophyta) from the remote coral reefs of the Southern Line Islands, Pacific Ocean

2021-12-12 , Leliaert, Frederik , Kelly, Emily L. A. , Janouškovec, Jan , Fox, Michael D. , Johnson, Maggie D. , Redfern, Farran M. , Eria, Taati , Haas, Andreas F. , Sala, Enric , Sandin, Stuart A. , Smith, Jennifer E.

The marine green alga Brilliantia kiribatiensis gen. et sp. nov. is described from samples collected from the coral reefs of the Southern Line Islands, Republic of Kiribati, Pacific Ocean. Phylogenetic analysis of sequences of the large- and small-subunit rDNA and the rDNA internal transcribed spacer region revealed that Brilliantia is a member of the Boodleaceae (Cladophorales), containing the genera Apjohnia, Boodlea, Cladophoropsis, Chamaedoris, Phyllodictyon, and Struvea. Within this clade it formed a distinct lineage, sister to Struvea elegans, but more distantly related to the bona fide Struvea species (including the type S. plumosa). Brilliantia differs from the other genera by having a very simple architecture forming upright, unbranched, single-celled filaments attached to the substratum by a rhizoidal mat. Cell division occurs by segregative cell division only at the onset of reproduction. Based on current sample collection, B. kiribatiensis seems to be largely restricted to the Southern Line Islands, although it was also observed on neighboring islands, including Orona Atoll in the Phoenix Islands of Kiribati, and the Rangiroa and Takapoto Atolls in the Tuamotus of French Polynesia. This discovery highlights the likeliness that there is still much biodiversity yet to be discovered from these remote and pristine reefs of the central Pacific.

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Benthic assemblages are more predictable than fish assemblages at an island scale

2022-05-30 , Sandin, Stuart A. , Alcantar, Esmeralda , Clark, Randy , de León, Ramón , Dilrosun, Faisal , Edwards, Clinton B. , Estep, Andrew J. , Eynaud, Yoan , French, Beverly J. , Fox, Michael D. , Grenda, Dave , Hamilton, Scott L. , Kramp, Heather , Marhaver, Kristen L. , Miller, Scott D. , Roach, Ty N. F. , Seferina, Gisette , Silveira, Cynthia B. , Smith, Jennifer E. , Zgliczynski, Brian J. , Vermeij, Mark J. A.

Decades of research have revealed relationships between the abundance of coral reef taxa and local conditions, especially at small scales. However, a rigorous test of covariation requires a robust dataset collected across wide environmental or experimental gradients. Here, we surveyed spatial variability in the densities of major coral reef functional groups at 122 sites along a 70 km expanse of the leeward, forereef habitat of Curaçao in the southern Caribbean. These data were used to test the degree to which spatial variability in community composition could be predicted based on assumed functional relationships and site-specific anthropogenic, physical, and ecological conditions. In general, models revealed less power to describe the spatial variability of fish biomass than cover of reef builders (R2 of best-fit models: 0.25 [fish] and 0.64 [reef builders]). The variability in total benthic cover of reef builders was best described by physical (wave exposure and reef relief) and ecological (turf algal height and coral recruit density) predictors. No metric of anthropogenic pressure was related to spatial variation in reef builder cover. In contrast, total fish biomass showed a consistent (albeit weak) association with anthropogenic predictors (fishing and diving pressure). As is typical of most environmental gradients, the spatial patterns of both fish biomass density and reef builder cover were spatially autocorrelated. Residuals from the best-fit model for fish biomass retained a signature of spatial autocorrelation while the best-fit model for reef builder cover removed spatial autocorrelation, thus reinforcing our finding that environmental predictors were better able to describe the spatial variability of reef builders than that of fish biomass. As we seek to understand spatial variability of coral reef communities at the scale of most management units (i.e., at kilometer- to island-scales), distinct and scale-dependent perspectives will be needed when considering different functional groups.

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Ecophysiology of coral reef primary producers across an upwelling gradient in the tropical central Pacific

2020-02-04 , Johnson, Maggie D. , Fox, Michael D. , Kelly, Emily L. A. , Zgliczynski, Brian J. , Sandin, Stuart A. , Smith, Jennifer E.

Upwelling is an important source of inorganic nutrients in marine systems, yet little is known about how gradients in upwelling affect primary producers on coral reefs. The Southern Line Islands span a natural gradient of inorganic nutrient concentrations across the equatorial upwelling region in the central Pacific. We used this gradient to test the hypothesis that benthic autotroph ecophysiology is enhanced on nutrient-enriched reefs. We measured metabolism and photophysiology of common benthic taxa, including the algae Porolithon, Avrainvillea, and Halimeda, and the corals Pocillopora and Montipora. We found that temperature (27.2–28.7°C) was inversely related to dissolved inorganic nitrogen (0.46–4.63 μM) and surface chlorophyll a concentrations (0.108–0.147 mg m-3), which increased near the equator. Contrary to our prediction, ecophysiology did not consistently track these patterns in all taxa. Though metabolic rates were generally variable, Porolithon and Avrainvillea photosynthesis was highest at the most productive and equatorial island (northernmost). Porolithon photosynthetic rates also generally increased with proximity to the equator. Photophysiology (maximum quantum yield) increased near the equator and was highest at northern islands in all taxa. Photosynthetic pigments also were variable, but chlorophyll a and carotenoids in Avrainvillea and Montipora were highest at the northern islands. Phycobilin pigments of Porolithon responded most consistently across the upwelling gradient, with higher phycoerythrin concentrations closer to the equator. Our findings demonstrate that the effects of in situ nutrient enrichment on benthic autotrophs may be more complex than laboratory experiments indicate. While upwelling is an important feature in some reef ecosystems, ancillary factors may regulate the associated consequences of nutrient enrichment on benthic reef organisms.