Ecologists use the latest dental scanning technology to study young corals
Inspired by a visit to the dentist, Dr. Kate Quigley presents a new method of monitoring coral size and growth that cuts study time by 99%. The methodology and results are published in Methods in ecology and evolution.
Dr Kate Quigley, a senior scientist at the Minderoo Foundation who has conducted research at the Australian Institute of Marine Science and James Cook University, has developed a new non-destructive method to quickly and safely scan corals , thereby reducing previously laborious resources. and lengthy surveying techniques.
Inspired by a visit to the dentist, Dr. Quigley pointed out the similarities between coral and our teeth, both of which are calcium-based and require measuring tools that can withstand wet surfaces. “One day I was at the dentist, and they brought out this new scanning machine. I knew immediately that this was something that could be applied to scanning very small corals since corals and teeth actually share many similar properties. The rest is history.”
Coral reefs are among the most productive ecosystems on earth and provide essential nutritional and protective services to people around the world. These important ecosystems have suffered severe declines in recent decades, prompting a wave of research around their basic biology and restoration. Understanding the critical life stage of juvenile corals allows scientists to predict changes in the ecosystem, the impacts of disturbances and their potential for recovery.
Reconstruction of 3D models of corals reveals information about their health and their response to pressures such as rising temperatures or acidification. Several methods exist to construct and evaluate these 3D models, but their effectiveness is reduced when constructing small-scale measurements.
Dr Quigley said: “Right now it’s difficult to accurately measure very small 3D objects, especially if you want to measure small living animals, like coral, without harming them.
“During my PhD, it took half a day to produce a scan, and I was interested in scanning hundreds of corals at a time.
“For the first time, this new method will allow scientists to measure thousands of tiny corals quickly, accurately, and without any negative impact on coral health. This has the potential to expand large-scale coral health monitoring. oceans and scaling corals. reef restoration.”
To assess the effectiveness of these dental scanners, namely the ITero Element 5D Flex, Dr. Quigley measured juvenile corals at the Australian Institute of Marine Science’s National Sea Simulator. The corals, from the Great Barrier Relief, were temporarily removed from their indoor aquarium and their surface area and volume recorded before being returned to the tanks.
On average, it took less than three minutes to scan and build a model of each individual coral, compared to more than 4 hours with previous methods, a 99% decrease in the time needed to make such measurements. Dr Quigley recorded equally fast and accurate performance when measuring and comparing models of dead skeletons and living coral tissue. Removed the need to sacrifice live animals to take measurements.
While this is a huge step forward in reducing the time needed to monitor and study small marine animals, 3D scans still need to be processed manually, which slows down analysis. Dr. Quigley hopes that the next avenue for this research is to try to create an automatic scan-to-measurement analysis pipeline, potentially using AI.
At present, this technology can only be used for measurements out of water. The hardware is not waterproof because the scanner relies on confocal laser technology.
“Potentially the scanner could be completely waterproof. However, it is unclear how well the laser technology would work fully submerged underwater. measure, so we’re getting there.”
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A fast, accurate and in vivo method for 3D models of corals at the micron level using dental scanners, Methods in ecology and evolution (2022). DOI: 10.1111/2041-210X.13959
Provided by the British Ecological Society
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