Limnology and Oceanography: Methods
Ocean warming is increasingly affecting marine ecosystems across the globe. Reef-building corals are particularly affected by warming, with mass bleaching events increasing in frequency and leading to widespread coral mortality. Yet, some corals can resist or recover from bleaching better than others. Such variability in thermal resilience could be critical to reef persistence; however, the scientific community lacks standardized diagnostic approaches to rapidly and comparatively assess coral thermal vulnerability prior to bleaching events. We present the Coral Bleaching Automated Stress System (CBASS) as a low-cost, open-source, field-portable experimental system for rapid empirical assessment of coral thermal thresholds using standardized temperature stress profiles and diagnostics. The CBASS consists of four or eight flow-through experimental aquaria with independent water masses, lighting, and individual automated temperature controls capable of delivering custom modulating thermal profiles. The CBASS is used to conduct daily thermal stress exposures that typically include 3-h temperature ramps to multiple target temperatures, a 3-h hold period at the target temperatures, and a 1-h ramp back down to ambient temperature, followed by an overnight recovery period. This mimics shallow water temperature profiles observed in coral reefs and prompts a rapid acute heat stress response that can serve as a diagnostic tool to identify putative thermotolerant corals for in-depth assessments of adaptation mechanisms, targeted conservation, and possible use in restoration efforts. The CBASS is deployable within hours and can assay up to 40 coral fragments/aquaria/day, enabling high-throughput, rapid determination of thermal thresholds for individual genotypes, populations, species, and sites using a standardized experimental framework.
Evensen, Nicolas; Parker, Katherine E.; Oliver, Thomas A.; Palumbi, Stephen R.; Logan, Cheryl A.; Ryan, James S.; Klepac, Courtney N.; Perna, Gabriela; Warner, Mark E.; Voolstra, Christian R.; and Barshis, Daniel J., "The Coral Bleaching Automated Stress System (CBASS): A low‐cost, portable system for standardized empirical assessments of coral thermal limits" (2023). Marine Science Faculty Publications and Presentations. 8.