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Corals in Focus

July 18, 2016

Tiny seafloor organisms can have a big impact on the whole ecosystem. Now, researchers have designed a microscope that captures their interactions in their natural habitat.

Transcript

Coral Competition

Polyps from two species of coral compete for space. (Jaffe Lab/Scripps Institution of Oceanography)

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BOB HIRSHON (host):

Corals in focus. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Coral reefs are formed by millions of tiny polyps, each just a millimeter across. Now, researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography have designed an underwater microscope to document the interactions of these and other organisms right on the seafloor. Grad student Andy Mullen and Tali Treibitz, now at the University of Haifa, designed the microscope. Mullen says it can resolve images about a tenth of the width of a hair.

ANDY MULLEN (Scripps Institution of Oceanography):

We can really start to look at corals’ behavior and see them as the animals that they are.

HIRSHON:

Microscope videos have revealed polyps sharing food as well as rival species attacking one another. And its images have yielded fresh insights into coral bleaching. The researchers write in Nature Communications that the microscope could help scientists better understand how small-scale processes can influence entire ecosystems. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

Paul Roberts and Jules Jaffe at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography contributed to the design of the microscope.

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Story by Susanne Bard