USA. Erica Towle to study endangered staghorn corals

Thursday, 14 March 2013


University of Miami (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science graduate student Erica Towle was awarded a grant to study Acropora cervicornis, or staghorn corals, by the Mohamed bin Zayed Conservation Fund.  This species of hard corals is listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species™. Their populations worldwide have experienced a reduction of more than 80% over the last 30 years due to the effects of disease, climate change and human-related factors. Towle’s research will look for markers for resilience to climate change - specifically to see if heterotrophic nutrition and lipid reserves, which provide energy for daily metabolism can help them to survive in the face of increasing temperatures and ocean acidification.

  “The Staghorn coral used to be one of the dominant reef builders in the Florida Reef Tract.  In the face of global climate change, it is imperative that we understand what factors contribute to this species’ resilience to stress before it’s too late,” said Towle. 
Her preliminary research has shown that A. cervicornis, which has had access to heterotrophic nutrition from organic compounds and is exposed to increasing carbon dioxide levels shows no significant change in total energy stores.  However, in the absence of heterotrophic intake, total lipid content decreases with increasing carbon dioxide concentration.  These results imply that heterotrophy and total lipid stores may be correlated in A. cervicornis and that ocean acidification conditions may be more metabolically costly with respect to lipid metabolism than previously understood. The implication is that heterotrophy and the subsequent energy stores it provides may be a marker for resilience to climate change stress.   
Based in Abu Dhabi, UAE, The Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund is a philanthropic endowment established to: provide targeted grants to individual species conservation initiatives; recognize leaders in the field of species conservation; and elevate the importance of species in the broader conservation debate.  For more information, please visit
The University of Miami’s mission is to educate and nurture students, to create knowledge, and to provide service to our community and beyond. Committed to excellence and proud of our diversity of our University family, we strive to develop future leaders of our nation and the world. Founded in the 1940’s, the Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science has grown into one of the world’s premier marine and atmospheric research institutions. Offering dynamic interdisciplinary academics, the Rosenstiel School is dedicated to helping communities to better understand the planet, participating in the establishment of environmental policies, and aiding in the improvement of society and quality of life. For more information, please visit

Last Updated ( Thursday, 14 March 2013 )