Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: South China Sea


China’s seas cover nearly 5 million square kilometers extending from the tropical to the temperate climate zones and bordering on 32,000 km of coastline, including islands. Comprehensive systematic study of the marine biodiversity within this region began in the early 1950s with the establishment of the Qingdao Marine Biological Laboratory of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Since that time scientists have carried out intensive multidisciplinary research on marine life in the China seas and have recorded 22,629 species belonging to 46 phyla. The marine flora and fauna of the China seas are characterized by high biodiversity, including tropical and subtropical elements of the Indo-West Pacific warm-water fauna in the South and East China seas, and temperate elements of North Pacific temperate fauna mainly in the Yellow Sea. The southern South China Sea fauna is characterized by typical tropical elements paralleled with the Philippine-New Guinea-Indonesia Coral triangle typical tropical faunal center.This paper summarizes advances in studies of marine biodiversity in China’s seas and discusses current research mainly on characteristics and changes in marine biodiversity, including the monitoring, assessment, and conservation of endangered species and particularly the strengthening of effective management. Studies of (1) a tidal flat in a semi-enclosed embayment, (2) the impact of global climate change on a cold-water ecosystem, (3) coral reefs of Hainan Island and Xisha-Nansha atolls, (4) mangrove forests of the South China Sea, (5) a threatened seagrass field, and (6) an example of stock enhancement practices of the Chinese shrimp fishery are briefly introduced. Besides the overexploitation of living resources (more than 12.4 million tons yielded in 2007), the major threat to the biodiversity of the China seas is environmental deterioration (pollution, coastal construction), particularly in the brackish waters of estuarine environments, which are characterized by high productivity and represent spawning and nursery areas for several economically important species. In the long term, climate change is also a major threat. Finally, challenges in marine biodiversity studies are briefly discussed along with suggestions to strengthen the field. Since 2004, China has participated in the Census of Marine Life, through which advances in the study of zooplankton and zoobenthos biodiversity were finally summarized.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Coral reef, Climate, Ecosystem, Pacific Ocean, Ocean, South China Sea, East China Sea


A new antibacterial chlorinated benzophenone derivative, (±)-pestalachloride D (1), along with a related analog, (±)-pestalachloride C (2), was recently isolated from the marine-derived fungus Pestalotiopsis sp. isolated from a soft coral Sarcophyton sp. collected from Yongxing Island in the South China Sea. Both chiral HPLC analysis and single-crystal X-ray data indicated that 1 is a racemic mixture. Interestingly, 1 did not exhibit any effect in the zebrafish embryo teratogenicity assay, while 2 led to abnormal growth. The potential impact on zebrafish embryo growth is discussed based on their crystal structures. The main difference of crystal structures between 1 and 2 is that the six-member non-aromatic ring (O4, C10, C9, C8, C2', and C3') in 1 exhibits a distorted chair conformation, while 2 shows a distorted boat conformation. Moreover, compounds 1 and 2 both exhibited moderate antibacterial activity.

Concepts: Stereochemistry, Enantiomer, Solid, South China Sea, Racemic mixture, Cyclohexane conformation, East China Sea, Adderall


Quaternary climatic cycles have influenced marine organisms' spatial distribution and population dynamics. This study aimed to elucidate the evolutionary influences of contemporary and glacial physical barriers on the population structure, demography and colonization history of the mudskipper (Periophthalmus modestus) based on a mitochondrial gene segment (ND5) from 131 individual fish sampled in the northwestern Pacific Ocean. The current Kuroshio Current and the glacial exposure of the Taiwan Strait appeared to have restricted migration among the South China Sea, coastal East China and Japan. However, genetic homogeneity (Nm>1) also suggested contemporary larval transportation by sea circulation between the East China Sea and the South China Sea or historical dispersal along the glacial exposed shoreline among China, Japan and the Ryukyu Islands. Evolutionary signals of the strengthened East Asian Summer Monsoon in the mid-Pleistocene and regional difference in intertidal primary productions were indicated by a late-Pleistocene population expansion of P. modestus with a higher effective population size in the South China Sea than in the East China Sea. Furthermore, a potential colonization origin from the South China Sea was consistently inferred by different clues, including the populations' coalescence times, the ancestral haplotype distribution, the number of private haplotypes and species/genetic diversity.

Concepts: Population, Population ecology, Japan, Population genetics, Pacific Ocean, Taiwan, South China Sea, East China Sea


A 2 °C increase in global temperature above pre-industrial levels is considered a reasonable target for avoiding the most devastating impacts of anthropogenic climate change. In June 2015, sea surface temperature (SST) of the South China Sea (SCS) increased by 2 °C in response to the developing Pacific El Niño. On its own, this moderate, short-lived warming was unlikely to cause widespread damage to coral reefs in the region, and the coral reef “Bleaching Alert” alarm was not raised. However, on Dongsha Atoll, in the northern SCS, unusually weak winds created low-flow conditions that amplified the 2 °C basin-scale anomaly. Water temperatures on the reef flat, normally indistinguishable from open-ocean SST, exceeded 6 °C above normal summertime levels. Mass coral bleaching quickly ensued, killing 40% of the resident coral community in an event unprecedented in at least the past 40 years. Our findings highlight the risks of 2 °C ocean warming to coral reef ecosystems when global and local processes align to drive intense heating, with devastating consequences.

Concepts: Coral, Coral reef, Climate, Ecosystem, Climate change, Ocean, South China Sea, Global warming


Coral reefs on remote islands and atolls are less exposed to direct human stressors but are becoming increasingly vulnerable because of their development for geopolitical and military purposes. Here we document dredging and filling activities by countries in the South China Sea, where building new islands and channels on atolls is leading to considerable losses of, and perhaps irreversible damages to, unique coral reef ecosystems. Preventing similar damage across other reefs in the region necessitates the urgent development of cooperative management of disputed territories in the South China Sea. We suggest using the Antarctic Treaty as a positive precedent for such international cooperation.

Concepts: Coral, Coral reef, Maldives, South China Sea, Coastal and oceanic landforms, Islands, Spratly Islands, South China Sea Islands


The South China Sea (SCS), the largest marginal sea in the Western Pacific Ocean, is a huge oligotrophic water body with very limited influx of nitrogenous nutrients. This suggests that sediment microbial N(2) fixation plays an important role in the production of bioavailable nitrogen. To test the molecular underpinning of this hypothesis, the diversity, abundance, biogeographical distribution, and community structure of the sediment diazotrophic microbiota were investigated at 12 sampling sites, including estuarine, coastal, offshore, deep-sea, and methane hydrate reservoirs or their prospective areas by targeting nifH and some other functional biomarker genes. Diverse and novel nifH sequences were obtained, significantly extending the evolutionary complexity of extant nifH genes. Statistical analyses indicate that sediment in situ temperature is the most significant environmental factor influencing the abundance, community structure, and spatial distribution of the sediment nifH-harboring microbial assemblages in the northern SCS (nSCS). The significantly positive correlation of the sediment pore water NH(4)(+) concentration with the nifH gene abundance suggests that the nSCS sediment nifH-harboring microbiota is active in N(2) fixation and NH(4)(+) production. Several other environmental factors, including sediment pore water PO(4)(3-) concentration, sediment organic carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus levels, etc., are also important in influencing the community structure, spatial distribution, or abundance of the nifH-harboring microbial assemblages. We also confirmed that the nifH genes encoded by archaeal diazotrophs in the ANME-2c subgroup occur exclusively in the deep-sea methane seep areas, providing for the possibility to develop ANME-2c nifH genes as a diagnostic tool for deep-sea methane hydrate reservoir discovery.

Concepts: Archaea, Bacteria, Water, Hydrogen, Pacific Ocean, Ocean, South China Sea, East China Sea


Five new phenethylamine (PEA) derivatives (1-5) were isolated from the strain of Arenibacter nanhaiticus sp. nov. NH36A(T) derived from the marine sediment of the South China Sea by bioassay-guided fractionation. Their structures were elucidated by spectroscopic methods including UV, IR, HR-MS and NMR. Interestingly, compounds 1-4 existed as enantiomers, which were resolved by chiral liquid chromatography. The resolved configuration of each enantiomer was assigned by the Marfey’s method. Of these compounds, 5 showed weak antimicrobial activity against Staphylococcus aureus and Bacillus subtilis with MIC values of 0.50 and 0.25 mg ml(-1), respectively.The Journal of Antibiotics advance online publication, 17 July 2013; doi:10.1038/ja.2013.65.

Concepts: Bacteria, Microbiology, Staphylococcus aureus, Enantiomer, Chirality, Bacillus, Bacillus subtilis, South China Sea


Internal waves and bathymetric variation create time- and space-dependent alterations in the ocean acoustic waveguide, and cause subsequent coupling of acoustic energy between propagating normal modes. In this paper, the criterion for adiabatic invariance is extended to the case of an internal solitary wave (ISW) encountering a sloping bathymetry (i.e., continental shelfbreak). Predictions based on the extended criterion for adiabatic invariance are compared to experimental observations from the Asian Seas International Acoustics Experiment. Using a mode 1 starter field, results demonstrate time-dependent coupling of mode 1 energy to higher adjacent modes, followed by abrupt coupling of mode 5-7 energy to nonadjacent modes 8-20, produces enhanced mode coupling and higher received levels downrange of the oceanographic and bathymetric features. Numerical simulations demonstrate that increasing ISW amplitude and seafloor slope enhance the coupling of energy to adjacent and nonadjacent modes. This enhanced coupling is the direct result of the simultaneous influence of the ISW and its proximity to the shelfbreak, and, compared to the individual effect of the ISW or shelfbreak, has the capacity to scatter 2-4 times the amount of acoustic energy from below the thermocline into the upper water column beyond the shelfbreak in realistic environments.

Concepts: Quantum mechanics, Oceanography, Wave, Acoustics, Sound, South China Sea, Normal mode, Waves


In marine ecosystems, both nitrite-reducing bacteria and anaerobic ammonium-oxidizing (anammox) bacteria, containing different types of NO-forming nitrite reductase-encoding genes, contribute to the nitrogen cycle. The objectives of study were to reveal the diversity, abundance, and distribution of NO-forming nitrite reductase-encoding genes in deep-sea subsurface environments. Results showed that higher diversity and abundance of nirS gene than nirK and Scalindua-nirS genes were evident in the sediments of the South China Sea (SCS), indicating bacteria containing nirS gene dominated the NO-forming nitrite-reducing microbial community in this ecosystem. Similar diversity and abundance distribution patterns of both nirS and Scalindua-nirS genes were detected in this study sites, but different from nirK gene. Further statistical analyses also showed both nirS and Scalindua-nirS genes respond similarly to environmental factors, but differed from nirK gene. These results suggest that bacteria containing nirS and Scalindua-nirS genes share similar niche in deep-sea subsurface sediments of the SCS, but differed from those containing nirK gene, indicating that community structures of nitrite-reducing bacteria are segregated by the functional modules (NirS vs. NirK) rather than the competing processes (anammox vs. classical denitrification).

Concepts: Archaea, Bacteria, Evolution, Metabolism, Organism, Nitrogen, South China Sea, Denitrification


Thaumarchaeota are abundant and active in marine waters where they contribute to aerobic ammonia oxidation and light-independent carbon fixation. The ecological function of Thaumarchaeota in marine sediments, however, has been rarely investigated even though marine sediments constitute the majority of the Earth’s “surface.” Thaumarchaeota in the upper layer of sediments may contribute significantly to the reservoir of nitrogen oxides in ocean waters and thus to productivity including the assimilation of carbon. We tested this hypothesis in the Northern South China Sea (nSCS), a section of a large oligotrophic marginal sea with limited influx of nutrients including nitrogen, by investigating the diversity, abundance, community structure and spatial distribution of thaumarchaeotal signatures in surface sediments. Quantitative real-time PCR using primers designed to detect 16S rRNA and amoA genes in sediment community DNA revealed a significantly higher abundance of pertinent thaumarchaeotal vs. betaproteobacterial genes. This finding correlates with high levels of hcd genes, a signature for thaumarchaeotal autotrophic carbon fixation. Thaumarchaeol, a signature lipid biomarker for Thaumarchaeota, constituted the majority of archaeal lipids in marine sediments. Sediment temperature, organic P and silt contents were identified as key environmental factors shaping community structure and distribution of the monitored thaumarchaeotal amoA genes. When controlling for pore-water PO(4)(3-) concentration via partial correlation analysis, thaumarchaeotal amoA gene abundance significantly correlated with sediment pore-water NO(2)(-) concentration suggesting that the amoA-encoding Thaumarchaeota contribute to nitrite production. Statistical analyses also suggest that thaumarchaeotal metabolism could serve as a pivotal intersection of the carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus cycles in marine sediments.

Concepts: DNA, Carbon dioxide, Archaea, Ammonia, Metabolism, Hydrogen, Oxide, South China Sea