The Reef Sulphur Cycle: Influence on Climate and Ecosystem Services

  • Graham B. JonesEmail author
Part of the Ethnobiology book series (EBL)


Research in the western Pacific over the last 15 years has shown that hard corals contain exceptionally high concentrations of a sulphur substance called dimethylsulphoniopropionate or DMSP which can produce a volatile sulphur substance called dimethylsulphide or DMS. Of all the different coral species, staghorn coral or Acropora species produce the greatest amounts of atmospheric DMS. Oxidation of atmospheric DMS produces a sulphate aerosol which can potentially form cloud condensation nuclei (CCN) leading to low level cloud development. An increasing amount of evidence now suggests that DMS emitted from coral reefs could keep sea surface temperatures (SSTs) cooler (~1 °C between 10–20 °S) in the Great Barrier Reef, and western Pacific, through this reef produced low level cloud climate feedback. The production of these natural sulphur substances from coral reefs and their effect on regional climate, bird, bacterial and fish behaviour, and possible use as Polynesian navigational aids are reviewed, providing evidence of a very valuable and important ecosystem service not previously described.


Dimethylsulphide Coral reefs Cloud cover Climate feedback Ecosystem services Infochemicals Navigational aids 



Many people have assisted the continuing evolution of the DMS-coral reef story. Special thanks are given to Mark Curran and Andrew Broadbent who worked with me at James Cook University (JCU) on the initial research that gave momentum to further studies on the production of DMS from coral reefs. Anne Trevena (JCU) who took a break from her Southern Ocean work to delve briefly into reef DMS research is also thanked. Esther Fischer, Tessa Vance, Stacey King, and Darren Fortescue from Southern Cross University are thanked for their contributions on the biological role of these sulphur substances and their production. Elisabeth Deschaseaux and Hilton Swan (SCU) are especially thanked for bringing new insights, methods and new interpretations to this fascinating area of reef research, and extending the reef-DMS research even further, especially in relation to the antioxidant role of these substances in coral (Elisabeth) and the processes by which elevated levels of atmospheric DMS occur over coral reefs (Hilton). Professor Ron Kiene (University of South Alabama) is especially thanked for reviewing the research of many of my PhD students who worked on this topic. Staff from James Cook University, Southern Cross University, the Australian Antarctic Division and the Australian Institute of Marine Science, are also thanked for their assistance to our DMS research at different times. Finally deepest thanks are given to my wife Rosemary for her considerable help and continued support and interest of this research. This contribution is dedicated to my grandchildren and a more sustainable planet for their future.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Marine Ecology Research Centre, School of Environment, Science and EngineeringSouthern Cross UniversityLismoreAustralia

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