Monthly Archives: August 2012

Smith Lab Publishes A New Paper!

Dr. Jennifer Smith & Postdoc Nichole Price publish a new paper on the natural variability in pH from the Central Pacific in PLoS ONE!

Diel Variability in Seawater pH Relates to Calcification and Benthic Community Structure on Coral Reefs


Community structure and assembly are determined in part by environmental heterogeneity. While reef-building corals respond negatively to warming (i.e. bleaching events) and ocean acidification (OA), the extent of present-day natural variability in pH on shallow reefs and ecological consequences for benthic assemblages is unknown. We documented high resolution temporal patterns in temperature and pH from three reefs in the central Pacific and examined how these data relate to community development and net accretion rates of early successional benthic organisms. These reefs experienced substantial diel fluctuations in temperature (0.78°C) and pH (>0.2) similar to the magnitude of ‘warming’ and ‘acidification’ expected over the next century. Where daily pH within the benthic boundary layer failed to exceed pelagic climatological seasonal lows, net accretion was slower and fleshy, non-calcifying benthic organisms dominated space. Thus, key aspects of coral reef ecosystem structure and function are presently related to natural diurnal variability in pH.


You can read the entire paper here.

Disgustingly… Awesome – A Look at Coral Spawning

An odd smell permeated our vehicle while driving down the road to one of our field sites…what is that?  We’ve smelled trash, sewage, yard waste, burning cane; but never this.  What could it be?  No idea.

It turns out, that corals around the entire island of Maui were making love.

Rice coral spawning is an amazing event that occurs only twice a year, on a couple of specific days, at a specific time of night.  All the corals in the region wait to exhale at the exact same moment, releasing their loads into the ocean with uncanny temporal precision.
This precision allowed us to run out to the reef at Kapalua, jump in the water at night, and within minutes, observe millions of sperm/egg packets being dumped before our eyes.  The spawn turned the coastal ocean into a soup of gamete balls that floated to the surface, creating a thick odorous slick stretching as far as we could see.

This slick is likely what created the aforementioned smell around the island.   It was the smell of corals gettin’ it on.  We watched in amazement, along with many other animals that came out at night to observe the salacious activity.

Yes, we were one with the coral spawn.  Pretty disgusting….pretty awesome.Get ‘er done my coral friends…and keep building those reefs.

Looking Back at ICRS 2012

The International Coral Reef Symposium, held in Carins, Australia, was a huge success! The Smith Lab has returned with a new perspective on coral reef science and many fond memories.

Amanda, Levi, Clint, Jill, and Ayana – All smiles in Australia!

I had the opportunity to present my current research regarding the corallimorph invasion at Palmyra Atoll at the International Coral Reef Symposium in Cairns, Australia this July. The trip was incredible (although the flights were extremely long) and I had an amazing time listening to hundreds of scientists present their cutting-edge research. The symposium generated a huge amount of press, both positive and negative, and has brought coral reef research to the attention of the general public. I also had the opportunity to dive on the Great Barrier Reef with some of my lab mates, Clinton Edwards, Jill Harris, and Levi Lewis, as well as Ayana Johnson, an SIO Alumni who now works for the Waitt Foundation. We had the most amazing time and I got to make friends with a massive Napoleon Maori Wrasse! I have to admit, I did spend a lot of my time identifying corals that I have been analyzing in photos for the past two years! All in all, it was an incredible and extremely educational experience. I can’t wait to go back!

-Amanda Carter, Master’s Student

The San Diego Science Team at ICRS 2012

For me, the best part about ICRS was meeting so many people who I’ll call Big Names. I have read all of their papers and am impressed with their approaches to coral reef science. Jen often refers to these Big Name scientists by their first names because she, of course, is a colleague and friend. To me, they are last name scientists; I know them only as authors of journal articles.

But at this meeting, Jen introduced us to many of her colleagues. I met the Big Names while waiting in line for coffee, while looking at science posters in the conference hall, and chatted with them over happy hour beers. It turns out that these Big Name scientists are all just nice people who want to talk to graduate students. It was refreshing, and I returned home re-energized with new ideas and directions for my dissertation.

Good science is rarely a product of a solo researcher. So many interesting discoveries are built on good collaborations, and now I am happy to say that I’m on a first name basis with several of the Big Names. Who knows? Maybe there are some fruitful collaborations in my future!

– Jill Harris, PhD student

ICRS is by far the most amazing conference I have ever been to and I am so grateful I had the opportunity to both attend and to present my research. It was an intense five days, full of talks that I wanted to see, old friends I have met while traveling for research, and reknowned coral reef scientist I have been dying to meet.  Every member of the Smith lab did a great job in their presentations and I am proud to be among this up and coming group of coral reef researchers.

-Maggie Johnson, PhD student

Maggie Johnson with Sandin lab member Kathryn Furby at the ICRS banquet
scripps oceanography uc san diego