skip to main content

This content will become publicly available on November 24, 2024

Title: What makes a winner? Symbiont and host dynamics determine Caribbean octocoral resilience to bleaching.

Unlike reef-building, scleractinian corals, Caribbean soft corals (octocorals) have not suffered marked declines in abundance associated with anthropogenic ocean warming. Both octocorals and reef-building scleractinians depend on a nutritional symbiosis with single-celled algae living within their tissues. In both groups, increased ocean temperatures can induce symbiont loss (bleaching) and coral death. Multiple heat waves from 2014 to 2016 resulted in widespread damage to reef ecosystems and provided an opportunity to examine the bleaching response of three Caribbean octocoral species. Symbiont densities declined during the heat waves but recovered quickly, and colony mortality was low. The dominant symbiont genotypes within a host generally did not change, and all colonies hosted symbiont species in the genusBreviolum.Their association with thermally tolerant symbionts likely contributes to the octocoral holobiont’s resistance to mortality and the resilience of their symbiont populations. The resistance and resilience of Caribbean octocorals offer clues for the future of coral reefs.

more » « less
Award ID(s):
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ; ; ;
Publisher / Repository:
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Science Advances
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Increasingly frequent marine heatwaves are devastating coral reefs. Corals that survive these extreme events must rapidly recover if they are to withstand subsequent events, and long-term survival in the face of rising ocean temperatures may hinge on recovery capacity and acclimatory gains in heat tolerance over an individual’s lifespan. To better understand coral recovery trajectories in the face of successive marine heatwaves, we monitored the responses of bleaching-susceptible and bleaching-resistant individuals of two dominant coral species in Hawai’i,Montipora capitataandPorites compressa, over a decade that included three marine heatwaves. Bleaching-susceptible colonies ofP. compressaexhibited beneficial acclimatization to heat stress (i.e., less bleaching) following repeat heatwaves, becoming indistinguishable from bleaching-resistant conspecifics during the third heatwave. In contrast, bleaching-susceptibleM. capitatarepeatedly bleached during all successive heatwaves and exhibited seasonal bleaching and substantial mortality for up to 3 y following the third heatwave. Encouragingly, bleaching-resistant individuals of both species remained pigmented across the entire time series; however, pigmentation did not necessarily indicate physiological resilience. Specifically,M. capitatadisplayed incremental yet only partial recovery of symbiont density and tissue biomass across both bleaching phenotypes up to 35 mo following the third heatwave as well as considerable partial mortality. Conversely,P. compressaappeared to recover across most physiological metrics within 2 y and experienced little to no mortality. Ultimately, these results indicate that even some visually robust, bleaching-resistant corals can carry the cost of recurring heatwaves over multiple years, leading to divergent recovery trajectories that may erode coral reef resilience in the Anthropocene.

    more » « less
  2. Abstract

    Identifying which factors lead to coral bleaching resistance is a priority given the global decline of coral reefs with ocean warming. During the second year of back‐to‐back bleaching events in the Florida Keys in 2014 and 2015, we characterized key environmental and biological factors associated with bleaching resilience in the threatened reef‐building coralOrbicella faveolata. Ten reefs (five inshore, five offshore, 179 corals total) were sampled during bleaching (September 2015) and recovery (May 2016). Corals were genotyped with 2bRADand profiled for algal symbiont abundance and type.O. faveolataat the inshore sites, despite higher temperatures, demonstrated significantly higher bleaching resistance and better recovery compared to offshore. The thermotolerantDurusdinium trenchii(formerlySymbiondinium trenchii) was the dominant endosymbiont type region‐wide during initial (78.0% of corals sampled) and final (77.2%) sampling; >90% of the nonbleached corals were dominated byD. trenchii. 2bRADhost genotyping found no genetic structure among reefs, but inshore sites showed a high level of clonality. While none of the measured environmental parameters were correlated with bleaching, 71% of variation in bleaching resistance and 73% of variation in the proportion ofD. trenchiiwas attributable to differences between genets, highlighting the leading role of genetics in shaping natural bleaching patterns. Notably,D. trenchiiwas rarely dominant inO. faveolatafrom the Florida Keys in previous studies, even during bleaching. The region‐wide high abundance ofD. trenchiiwas likely driven by repeated bleaching associated with the two warmest years on record for the Florida Keys (2014 and 2015). On inshore reefs in the Upper Florida Keys,O. faveolatawas most abundant, had the highest bleaching resistance, and contained the most corals dominated byD. trenchii, illustrating a causal link between heat tolerance and ecosystem resilience with global change.

    more » « less
  3. Abstract

    As climate change progresses and extreme temperature events increase in frequency, rates of disturbance may soon outpace the capacity of certain species of reef‐building coral to recover from bleaching. This may lead to dramatic shifts in community composition and ecosystem function. Understanding variation in rates of bleaching recovery among species and how that translates to resilience to recurrent bleaching is fundamental to predicting the impacts of increasing disturbances on coral reefs globally. We tracked the response of two heat sensitive species in the genusAcroporato repeated bleaching events during the austral summers of 2015 and 2017. Despite a similar bleaching response, the speciesAcropora gemmiferarecovered faster based on transcriptome‐wide gene expression patterns and had a more dynamic algal symbiont community thanAcropora hyacinthusgrowing on the same reef. Moreover,A. gemmiferahad higher survival to repeated heat extremes, with six‐fold lower mortality thanA. hyacinthus. These patterns suggest that speed of recovery from a first round of bleaching, based on multiple mechanisms, contributes strongly to sensitivity to a second round of bleaching. Furthermore, our data uncovered intragenus variation in a group of corals thought generally to be heat‐sensitive and therefore paint a more nuanced view of the future health of coral reef ecosystems against a backdrop of increasing thermal disturbances.

    more » « less
  4. Abstract

    The prevalence of global coral bleaching has focused much attention on the possibility of interventions to increase heat resistance. However, if high heat resistance is linked to fitness tradeoffs that may disadvantage corals in other areas, then a more holistic view of heat resilience may be beneficial. In particular, overall resilience of a species to heat stress is likely to be the product of both resistance to heat and recovery from heat stress. Here, we investigate heat resistance and recovery among individualAcropora hyacinthuscolonies in Palau. We divided corals into low, moderate, and high heat resistance categories based on the number of days (4–9) needed to reach significant pigmentation loss due to experimental heat stress. Afterward, we deployed corals back onto a reef in a common garden 6‐month recovery experiment that monitored chlorophylla, mortality, and skeletal growth. Heat resistance was negatively correlated with mortality during early recovery (0–1 month) but not late recovery (4–6 months), and chlorophyllaconcentration recovered in heat‐stressed corals by 1‐month postbleaching. However, moderate‐resistance corals had significantly greater skeletal growth than high‐resistance corals by 4 months of recovery. High‐ and low‐resistance corals on average did not exhibit skeletal growth within the observed recovery period. These data suggest complex tradeoffs may exist between coral heat resistance and recovery and highlight the importance of incorporating multiple aspects of resilience into future reef management programs.

    more » « less
  5. Abstract

    Ocean warming is causing global coral bleaching events to increase in frequency, resulting in widespread coral mortality and disrupting the function of coral reef ecosystems. However, even during mass bleaching events, many corals resist bleaching despite exposure to abnormally high temperatures. While the physiological effects of bleaching have been well documented, the consequences of heat stress for bleaching‐resistant individuals are not well understood. In addition, much remains to be learned about how heat stress affects cellular‐level processes that may be overlooked at the organismal level, yet are crucial for coral performance in the short term and ecological success over the long term. Here we compared the physiological and cellular responses of bleaching‐resistant and bleaching‐susceptible corals throughout the 2019 marine heatwave in Hawai'i, a repeat bleaching event that occurred 4 years after the previous regional event. Relative bleaching susceptibility within species was consistent between the two bleaching events, yet corals of both resistant and susceptible phenotypes exhibited pronounced metabolic depression during the heatwave. At the cellular level, bleaching‐susceptible corals had lower intracellular pH than bleaching‐resistant corals at the peak of bleaching for both symbiont‐hosting and symbiont‐free cells, indicating greater disruption of acid–base homeostasis in bleaching‐susceptible individuals. Notably, cells from both phenotypes were unable to compensate for experimentally induced cellular acidosis, indicating that acid–base regulation was significantly impaired at the cellular level even in bleaching‐resistant corals and in cells containing symbionts. Thermal disturbances may thus have substantial ecological consequences, as even small reallocations in energy budgets to maintain homeostasis during stress can negatively affect fitness. These results suggest concern is warranted for corals coping with ocean acidification alongside ocean warming, as the feedback between temperature stress and acid–base regulation may further exacerbate the physiological effects of climate change.

    more » « less