Ecologists use the latest dental scanning technology to study young corals

Inspired by a visit to the dentist, Dr. Kate Quigley introduces a new method for monitoring coral size and growth that reduces inspection time by 99%. The methodology and findings are published in the journal British Ecological Society, Methods in Ecology and Evolution.

Dr Kate Quigley, a senior research scientist at the Minderoo Foundation who conducted the research at the Australian Institute of Marine Science and James Cook University, has developed a new non-destructive method for scanning corals quickly and safely, reducing the work involved. Before it was laborious. and long topographical techniques.

Inspired by a visit to the dentist, Dr. Quigley commented on the similarities between coral and our teeth, both of which rely on calcium and require measuring tools that can withstand wet surfaces. “One day, I was at the dentist and they released this new scanning machine. I immediately knew it was something that could be applied to scan very small corals, since corals and teeth actually share a lot of similar properties. The rest is history!” “

Coral reefs are among the most productive ecosystems on earth, providing essential nutritional and protective services to people around the world. These important ecosystems have suffered serious declines in recent decades, spurring a wave of research into their basic biology and restoration. Understanding the critical life stage of juvenile coral allows scientists to predict ecosystem changes, the impacts of disturbances, and their potential for recovery.

Reconstruction of 3D models of coral reveals information about their health and response to pressures such as rising temperatures or acidification. Various methods exist to build and evaluate these 3D models, but their effectiveness is reduced when small-scale measurements are built.

Dr Quigley said: “At the moment, it is difficult to accurately measure very small objects in 3D, especially if you are interested in measuring small living animals, such as coral, without damaging them.

“During my Ph.D., it took me half a day to produce a scan and I was interested in scanning hundreds of corals at once.

“For the first time, this new method will allow scientists to measure thousands of small corals quickly, accurately, and without any negative impact on coral health. This has the potential to expand large-scale monitoring of coral health. oceans and to scale up coral reef restoration.”

To assess the effectiveness of these dental scanners, namely the ITero Element 5D Flex, Dr. Quigley measured juvenile corals in the Australian Institute of Marine Science’s National Marine Simulator. The corals, from the Great Barrier Relief, were temporarily removed from their indoor aquarium and their surface area and volume were 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 required to make such measurements. Dr. Quigley recorded equally fast and accurate performance when measuring and comparing models of dead skeletons and live coral tissue. Eliminating the need to slaughter live animals to take action.

While this is a big step forward in reducing the time needed to monitor and study small marine animals, 3D scans still need to be processed manually, slowing down analysis. Dr. Quigley hopes that the next avenue for this research is to try to create an automated analysis pipeline from scanning to measurement, potentially using AI.

Currently, this technology can only be used for measurements outside of the water. The hardware is not waterproof as the scanner is based on confocal laser technology.

“Possibly, the scanner could be made completely waterproof. However, it’s not clear how well laser technology would work completely submerged underwater. We’ve taken this technology on the ship before and pulled out wild and lab-raised corals to measure.” , so we’re getting there!”

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Materials provided by British Ecological Society. Note: content can be edited for style and length.

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