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Coral reefs are declining worldwide primarily because of bleaching and subsequent mortality resulting from thermal stress. Currently, extensive efforts to engage in more holistic research and restoration endeavors have considerably expanded the techniques applied to examine coral samples. Despite such advances, coral bleaching and restoration studies are often conducted within a specific disciplinary focus, where specimens are collected, preserved, and archived in ways that are not always conducive to further downstream analyses by specialists in other disciplines. This approach may prevent the full utilization of unexpended specimens, leading to siloed research, duplicative efforts, unnecessary loss of additional corals to research endeavors, and overall increased costs. A recent US National Science Foundation-sponsored workshop set out to consolidate our collective knowledge across the disciplines of Omics, Physiology, and Microscopy and Imaging regarding the methods used for coral sample collection, preservation, and archiving. Here, we highlight knowledge gaps and propose some simple steps for collecting, preserving, and archiving coral-bleaching specimens that can increase the impact of individual coral bleaching and restoration studies, as well as foster additional analyses and future discoveries through collaboration. Rapid freezing of samples in liquid nitrogen or placing at −80 °C to −20 °C is optimal for most Omics and Physiology studies with a few exceptions; however, freezing samples removes the potential for many Microscopy and Imaging-based analyses due to the alteration of tissue integrity during freezing. For Microscopy and Imaging, samples are best stored in aldehydes. The use of sterile gloves and receptacles during collection supports the downstream analysis of host-associated bacterial and viral communities which are particularly germane to disease and restoration efforts. Across all disciplines, the use of aseptic techniques during collection, preservation, and archiving maximizes the research potential of coral specimens and allows for the greatest number of possible downstream analyses.


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Article States: The following information was supplied regarding data availability: This is a review and there is no raw data associated with it.

Original Publication Citation

Vega-Thurber, R., Schmeltzer, E. R., Grottoli, A. G., van Woesik, R., Toonen, R. J., Warner, M., Dobson, K. L., McLachlan, R. H., Barott, K., Barshis, D. J., Baumann, J., Chapron, L., Combosch, D. J., Correa, A. M., DeCarlo, T. M., Hagedorn, M., Hédouin, L., Hoadley, K., Felis, T., . . . Sawall, Y. (2022). Unified methods in collecting, preserving, and archiving coral bleaching and restoration specimens to increase sample utility and interdisciplinary collaboration. PeerJ, 10, 1-32, Article e14176.


0000-0003-1510-8375 (Barshis)