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  1. 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.

     
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available November 24, 2024
  2. Abstract Coral reef ecosystems are under threat from the frequent and severe impacts of anthropogenic climate change, particularly rising sea surface temperatures. The effects of thermal stress may be ameliorated by adaptation and/or acclimation of the host, symbiont, or holobiont (host + symbiont) to increased temperatures. We examined the role of the symbiont in promoting thermal tolerance of the holobiont, using Antillogorgia bipinnata (octocoral host) and Breviolum antillogorgium (symbiont) as a model system. We identified five distinct genotypes of B. antillogorgium from symbiont populations isolated from Antillogorgia colonies in the Florida Keys. Three symbiont genotypes were cultured and maintained at 26 °C (ambient historical temperature), and two were cultured and maintained at 30 °C (elevated historical temperature) for 2 yrs. We analyzed the growth rate and carrying capacity of each symbiont genotype at both ambient and elevated temperatures in culture (in vitro). All genotypes grew well at both temperatures, indicating that thermal tolerance exists among these B. antillogorgium cultures. However, a history of long-term growth at 30 °C did not yield better performance for B. antillogorgium at 30 °C (as compared to 26 °C), suggesting that prior culturing at the elevated temperature did not result in increased thermal tolerance. We then inoculated juvenile A. bipinnata polyps with each of the five symbiont genotypes and reared these polyps at both ambient and elevated temperatures ( in hospite experiment). All genotypes established symbioses with polyps in both temperature treatments. Survivorship of polyps at 30 °C was significantly lower than survivorship at 26 °C, but all treatments had surviving polyps at 56 d post-infection. Our results suggest broad thermal tolerance in B. antillogorgium, which may play a part in the increased resilience of Caribbean octocorals during heat stress events. 
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