KAUST Workshop on the Future of Red Sea Biodiversity

Oct 23 2018 08:00 AM - Oct 25 2018 06:00 PM

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This event is organized by the KAUST Red Sea Research Center (RSRC) with financial support from the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) Office of Sponsored Research (OSR)

October 23, 2018, Open Research Conference

October 24 -25, 2018 Participants Research Workshop
Level 0 Auditorium between buildings 2 and 3                  

ABOUT: As Saudi Arabia is preparing to achieve the goals set by the Kingdom’s Vision for the future, Vision 2030—which is an ambitious yet achievable project—the RSRC is engaging in constructive reflection about the environmental impact on the Red Sea coastal shores. 

This workshop will address important questions about how coral reef biodiversity should be monitored near Saudi's planned mega-developments on the Red Sea coast. The aim is to produce concrete recommendations to ensure conservation of these important ecosystems during construction and into the future so that their full natural value can be realized in a sustainable way. 

Find the Conference program here: agenda.pdf


Utilization of eDNA metabarcoding to assess coral reef health in Okinawa, Japan

Presenter: James Reimer

Abstract: Environmental DNA (eDNA) metabarcoding has great potential in assessing comparative total biodiversity, and facilitating robust comparisons across a wide variety of sites and taxa. In particular, eDNA combined with next-generation sequencing can help address the huge critical data gaps in our understanding of marine biodiversity, especially in regions with high levels of understudied diversity such as the coral reefs of the Indo-Pacific region. Within this region, Okinawa is known for its high levels of marine biodiversity and endemicity, and also for the threats shallow coral reef ecosystems face from a variety of stressors including local-scale coastal development and over-exploitation to global scale threats such as climate change. In this study, we generated eDNA metabarcoding sequences from sediment and seawater samples from various reefs in Okinawa, Japan. At the same time, we developed a simple methodology to assess the relative health of these reefs based on anthropogenic and natural stressors. We discuss our eDNA results in comparison to coral reef health, identify potential bioindicator taxa, and explore the relative biodiversity of coral reef communities across sites. Our results indicate that taxa asides from the corals (Scleractinia) can provide robust information on coral reef health.

Assessing Red Sea hard coral diversity: challenges and lessons learned

Presenter: Francesca Benzoni

Abstract: Hard corals (scleractinians) are the main builders of coral reefs which are among the most diverse, productive and economically important marine ecosystems. Moreover, colonial corals act as biodiversity aggregators on reefs with several organisms associated to them for part or all of their life cycle. Corals, hence, represent an irreplaceable resource currently threatened by local and global changes in the marine environment. However, different coral species are known to have different sensitivity and resilience to various threats (e.g. increased sedimentation, changes in water temperature). Thus, the quantification of coral diversity on a given reef, or in a certain area, is a fundamental task at the base of any coral reef monitoring and conservation initiative. Yet, it remains a very challenging one due to several reasons. These include the remarkable morphologic variability of corals and consequent problems in the identification of species boundaries in situ, the presence of cryptic species, and the patchiness of species distribution and abundance depending on various environmental factors and habitat availability. Our knowledge of reef coral biodiversity and distribution in the Red Sea has considerably improved in the last five years thanks to the unprecedented efforts done at KAUST: a large scale North-South survey on the one hand, and the analyses of collected material through an integrated systematics approach on the other hand. Nevertheless, some ecologically important taxa, e.g. family Acroporidae, still have to be analysed in detail. Monitoring coral diversity in case of local or global threats requires an ad-hoc package of techniques depending on the situation, the threat(s) and the concerned reef habitats. The importance of the monitoring and reference sites choice, the sampling effort in space and time, and a combination traditional (e.g. transects) and innovative techniques will be illustrated and discussed through two case studies: the 5 years monitoring of an industrial site construction in Yemen, and the one year long monitoring of the 2016 mass bleaching event in New Caledonia.

Knowledge and Challenges of Marine Biodiversity in the northern Red Sea

Presenter: Arthur Bos

Abstract: This presentation attempts providing an overview of our present knowledge of biodiversity in the northern Red Sea by exploring the following questions: What is the importance of marine biodiversity? Which taxonomic groups have been well studied, which have not? What is the role of the high rate of endemism in the Red Sea? To provide answers to those questions, examples of how biodiversity is important to humans will be given. Furthermore, it will be discussed how increasing pressure on biodiversity jeopardizes ecosystem stability and future opportunities of utilizing its features.

Red Sea biodiversity: current knowledge and future directions

Presenter: Gustav Paulay

Abstract: Our ability to document and monitor marine biodiversity has advanced greatly with the development and employment of all-taxon biodiversity surveys, digital imaging, DNA barcoding, and metabarcoding, net-worked taxonomic study, bioinformatics, and online databases.  In the past few years major integrative biodiversity initiatives by the Smithsonian's MarineGeo program, the Hakai Institute, and the Florida Museum of Natural History has documented thousands of species with images, DNA barcodes, and voucher-based, expert-vetted taxonomy at selected locations.  These, in turn, are serving as anchors for interpreting eDNA efforts that track of diversity at unprecedented scales.  A similar effort would be invaluable as the basis for monitoring Red Sea biodiversity.  The marine fauna of the basin has received taxonomic attention for over 250 years, yet recent surveys have revealed a surprising amount of novelty.  Integrative taxonomic studies that incorporate genetic data also remain sparse, and DNA barcodes exists for only a small portion of the fauna.  Focused, all-taxon field efforts coupled with DNA barcoding of new and existing collections would set the stage not only for a more robust understanding of the biota but also for eDNA approaches to biodiversity monitoring.  I will review current knowledge of Red Sea biodiversity, recent efforts, and methods for documenting biodiversity, and discuss how these could be implemented to rapidly improve capacity to monitor Red Sea reefs.

Searching for subtle signs: increasing the sensitivity of coral reef monitoring

Presenter: Christopher Goatley

Abstract: Modern techniques to monitor the status of coral reefs usually rely on recording the abundance of corals and large reef fishes; the very resources we are trying to protect. Once these communities have changed, the damage is done and recovery, if possible at all, can be a slow process. The development of more sensitive monitoring tools, which complement traditional methods of monitoring coral reefs, may reveal earlier signs of degradation and provide an opportunity for pre-emptive responses to protect the reef before long-term changes occur. In this presentation, I will introduce two case studies, which highlight potentially sensitive indicators of change on coral reefs. These indicators: sediment loads, rates of herbivory, and cryptobenthic reef fish community composition, along with numerous others, should be considered when developing new monitoring regimes as they are likely to provide high-resolution information on changes in ecosystem function on coral reefs and unprecedented opportunities to respond with active management tools to protect reefs from damage by human activities.

Hidden in plain sight? The cryptic biodiversity of coral reefs (FEP talk)

Presenter: Catherine McFadden

Abstract: In truth, we simply don’t know: it’s estimated that as many as 90% of the species inhabiting our oceans are still “unknown to science.” Most of these are small organisms that are difficult to detect and collect, but many of the largest, most conspicuous animals on shallow-water coral reefs—including the corals themselves—also remain undescribed and unnamed. Catherine's research focuses on “the species problem” in corals, and in this talk, she will discuss what a species is, how we distinguish species from one another, why it’s a difficult problem in corals, and why it matters. By using the latest technologies in DNA sequencing and microscopy to distinguish species, we’re learning that the corals of the Red Sea and many of the other organisms that live with and depend on them are far more unique than previously realized.

Diving into the realm of the cryptobiome - lessons for future reef diversity assessments

Presenter: John Pearman

Abstract: In an era where coral reefs are coming under increased anthropogenic stresses, biodiversity assessments are still biased towards large conspicuous organisms. The majority of the reef diversity is, however, hidden within the three-dimensional structure of the reef and is not routinely investigated. We argue that to make more robust management decisions for the conservation of reefs a more holistic approach to coral reef biodiversity assessments is required. Here we introduce the Autonomous Reef Monitoring Structures (ARMS) as a standardized tool to investigate eukaryotic cryptic fauna. ARMS are stacked PVC plates designed to mimic the three-dimensional structure of the coral reef and are being increasingly applied worldwide. To demonstrate the need for more comprehensive assessments of reef biodiversity, we present data ranging from bacteria to reef fish along a 16 degree latitudinal gradient in the Red Sea. We use a standardized approach combining ARMS with metabarcoding techniques to assess not only the eukaryotic cryptic fauna but also the bacterial community. We compare patterns of biodiversity achieved from these components with those measured using traditional reef survey methods targeting macrobenthic and fish communities. We conclude that complementing novel standardized approaches with those traditionally undertaken will lead to more efficient conservation measures.