Biophysical and physiological processes causing oxygen loss from coral reefs

Elife. 2019 Dec 3;8:e49114. doi: 10.7554/eLife.49114.


The microbialization of coral reefs predicts that microbial oxygen consumption will cause reef deoxygenation. Here we tested this hypothesis by analyzing reef microbial and primary producer oxygen metabolisms. Metagenomic data and in vitro incubations of bacteria with primary producer exudates showed that fleshy algae stimulate incomplete carbon oxidation metabolisms in heterotrophic bacteria. These metabolisms lead to increased cell sizes and abundances, resulting in bacteria consuming 10 times more oxygen than in coral incubations. Experiments probing the dissolved and gaseous oxygen with primary producers and bacteria together indicated the loss of oxygen through ebullition caused by heterogenous nucleation on algae surfaces. A model incorporating experimental production and loss rates predicted that microbes and ebullition can cause the loss of up to 67% of gross benthic oxygen production. This study indicates that microbial respiration and ebullition are increasingly relevant to reef deoxygenation as reefs become dominated by fleshy algae.

Keywords: biomass; dissolved organic carbon; ecology; fleshy algae; microbialization; none; oxygen; respiration.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anthozoa / physiology*
  • Bacteria / metabolism
  • Biomass
  • Biophysics*
  • Carbon / metabolism
  • Coral Reefs
  • Ecosystem
  • Heterotrophic Processes
  • Metagenome
  • Microalgae / metabolism
  • Oxygen / metabolism*
  • Physiological Phenomena / physiology*
  • Seawater / microbiology
  • Water Microbiology


  • Carbon
  • Oxygen