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  1. As environments are rapidly reshaped due to climate change, phenotypic plasticity plays an important role in the ability of organisms to persist and is considered an especially important acclimatization mechanism for long-lived sessile organisms such as reef-building corals. Often, this ability of a single genotype to display multiple phenotypes depending on the environment is modulated by changes in gene expression, which can vary in response to environmental changes via two mechanisms: baseline expression and expression plasticity. We used transcriptome-wide expression profiling of eleven genotypes of common-gardenedAcropora cervicornisto explore genotypic variation in the expression response to thermal and acidification stress, both individually and in combination. We show that the combination of these two stressors elicits a synergistic gene expression response, and that both baseline expression and expression plasticity in response to stress show genotypic variation. Additionally, we demonstrate that frontloading of a large module of coexpressed genes is associated with greater retention of algal symbionts under combined stress. These results illustrate that variation in the gene expression response of individuals to climate change stressors can persist even when individuals have shared environmental histories, affecting their performance under future climate change scenarios.

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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available March 27, 2025
  2. Free, publicly-accessible full text available February 1, 2025
  3. Abstract

    Long-read sequencing is revolutionizingde-novogenome assemblies, with continued advancements making it more readily available for previously understudied, non-model organisms. Stony corals are one such example, with long-readde-novogenome assemblies now starting to be publicly available, opening the door for a wide array of ‘omics-based research. Here we present a newde-novogenome assembly for the endangered Caribbean star coral,Orbicella faveolata, using PacBio circular consensus reads. Our genome assembly improved the contiguity (51 versus 1,933 contigs) and complete and single copy BUSCO orthologs (93.6% versus 85.3%, database metazoa_odb10), compared to the currently available reference genome generated using short-read methodologies. Our newde-novoassembled genome also showed comparable quality metrics to other coral long-read genomes. Telomeric repeat analysis identified putative chromosomes in our scaffolded assembly, with these repeats at either one, or both ends, of scaffolded contigs. We identified 32,172 protein coding genes in our assembly through use of long-read RNA sequencing (ISO-seq) of additionalO. faveolatafragments exposed to a range of abiotic and biotic treatments, and publicly available short-read RNA-seq data. With anthropogenic influences heavily affectingO. faveolata, as well as itsincreasing incorporation into reef restoration activities, this updated genome resource can be used for population genomics and other ‘omics analyses to aid in the conservation of this species.

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  4. Abstract

    Chronically high levels of inorganic nutrients have been documented in Florida’s coral reefs and are linked to increased prevalence and severity of coral bleaching and disease. Naturally disease-resistant genotypes of the staghorn coralAcropora cervicornisare rare, and it is unknown whether prolonged exposure to acute or chronic high nutrient levels will reduce the disease tolerance of these genotypes. Recently, the relative abundance of the bacterial genusAquarickettsiawas identified as a significant indicator of disease susceptibility inA. cervicornis, and the abundance of this bacterial species was previously found to increase under chronic and acute nutrient enrichment. We therefore examined the impact of common constituents of nutrient pollution (phosphate, nitrate, and ammonium) on microbial community structure in a disease-resistant genotype with naturally low abundances ofAquarickettsia.We found that although this putative parasite responded positively to nutrient enrichment in a disease-resistant host, relative abundances remained low (< 0.5%). Further, while microbial diversity was not altered significantly after 3 weeks of nutrient enrichment, 6 weeks of enrichment was sufficient to shift microbiome diversity and composition. Coral growth rates were also reduced by 6 weeks of nitrate treatment compared to untreated conditions. Together these data suggest that the microbiomes of disease-resistantA. cervicornismay be initially resistant to shifts in microbial community structure, but succumb to compositional and diversity alterations after more sustained environmental pressure. As the maintenance of disease-resistant genotypes is critical for coral population management and restoration, a complete understanding of how these genotypes respond to environmental stressors is necessary to predict their longevity.

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  5. We test a newly developed instrument prototype which utilizes time-resolved chlorophyll- a fluorescence techniques and fluctuating light to characterize Symbiodiniaceae functional traits across seven different coral species under cultivation as part of ongoing restoration efforts in the Florida Keys. While traditional chlorophyll- a fluorescence techniques only provide a handful of algal biometrics, the system and protocol we have developed generates > 1000 dynamic measurements in a short (~11 min) time frame. Resulting ‘high-content’ algal biometric data revealed distinct phenotypes, which broadly corresponded to genus-level Symbiodiniaceae designations determined using quantitative PCR. Next, algal biometric data from Acropora cervicornis (10 genotypes) and A. palmata (5 genotypes) coral fragments was correlated with bleaching response metrics collected after a two month-long exposure to high temperature. A network analysis identified 1973 correlations (Spearman R > 0.5) between algal biometrics and various bleaching response metrics. These identified biomarkers of thermal stress were then utilized to train a predictive model, and when tested against the same A. cervicornis and A. palmata coral fragments, yielded high correlation (R = 0.92) with measured thermal response (reductions in absorbance by chlorophyll-a). When applied to all seven coral species, the model ranked fragments dominated by Cladocopium or Breviolum symbionts as more bleaching susceptible than corals harboring thermally tolerant symbionts ( Durusdinium ). While direct testing of bleaching predictions on novel genotypes is still needed, our device and modeling pipeline may help broaden the scalability of existing approaches for determining thermal tolerance in reef corals. Our instrument prototype and analytical pipeline aligns with recent coral restoration assessments that call for the development of novel tools for improving scalability of coral restoration programs. 
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  6. Gene expression profiles are correlated to disease phenotypes in resistant and susceptible corals. 
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  7. Once one of the predominant reef-building corals in the region,Acropora cervicornisis now a focal species of coral restoration efforts in Florida and the western Caribbean. Scientists and restoration practitioners have been independently collecting phenotypic data on genets ofA. cervicornisgrown in restoration nurseries. While these data are important for understanding the intraspecific response to varying environmental conditions, and thus the potential genetic contribution to phenotypic variation, in isolation these observations are of limited use for large-scale, multi- institution restoration efforts that are becoming increasingly necessary. Here, we present theAcropora cervicornisData Coordination Hub, a web-accessible relational database to align disparate datasets to compare genet-specific performance. In this data descriptor, we release data for 248 genets evaluated across 38 separate traits. We present a framework to align datasets with the ultimate goal of facilitating informed, data-driven restoration throughout the Caribbean.

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  8. Abstract

    Stony coral tissue loss disease (SCTLD), one of the most pervasive and virulent coral diseases on record, affects over 22 species of reef-building coral and is decimating reefs throughout the Caribbean. To understand how different coral species and their algal symbionts (family Symbiodiniaceae) respond to this disease, we examine the gene expression profiles of colonies of five species of coral from a SCTLD transmission experiment. The included species vary in their purported susceptibilities to SCTLD, and we use this to inform gene expression analyses of both the coral animal and their Symbiodiniaceae. We identify orthologous coral genes exhibiting lineage-specific differences in expression that correlate to disease susceptibility, as well as genes that are differentially expressed in all coral species in response to SCTLD infection. We find that SCTLD infection induces increased expression ofrab7, an established marker of in situ degradation of dysfunctional Symbiodiniaceae, in all coral species accompanied by genus-level shifts in Symbiodiniaceae photosystem and metabolism gene expression. Overall, our results indicate that SCTLD infection induces symbiophagy across coral species and that the severity of disease is influenced by Symbiodiniaceae identity.

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  9. Abstract Nutrient pollution is linked to coral disease susceptibility and severity, but the mechanism behind this effect remains underexplored. A recently identified bacterial species, ‘Ca. Aquarickettsia rohweri,’ is hypothesized to parasitize the Caribbean staghorn coral, Acropora cervicornis, leading to reduced coral growth and increased disease susceptibility. Aquarickettsia rohweri is hypothesized to assimilate host metabolites and ATP and was previously demonstrated to be highly nutrient-responsive. As nutrient enrichment is a pervasive issue in the Caribbean, this study examined the effects of common nutrient pollutants (nitrate, ammonium, and phosphate) on a disease-susceptible genotype of A. cervicornis. Microbial diversity was found to decline over the course of the experiment in phosphate-, nitrate-, and combined-treated samples, and quantitative PCR indicated that Aquarickettsia abundance increased significantly across all treatments. Only treatments amended with phosphate, however, exhibited a significant shift in Aquarickettsia abundance relative to other taxa. Furthermore, corals exposed to phosphate had significantly lower linear extension than untreated or nitrate-treated corals after 3 weeks of nutrient exposure. Together these data suggest that while experimental tank conditions, with an elevated nutrient regime associated with coastal waters, increased total bacterial abundance, only the addition of phosphate significantly altered the ratios of Aquarickettsia compared to other members of the microbiome. 
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  10. Abstract

    Recent warm temperatures driven by climate change have caused mass coral bleaching and mortality across the world, prompting managers, policymakers, and conservation practitioners to embrace restoration as a strategy to sustain coral reefs. Despite a proliferation of new coral reef restoration efforts globally and increasing scientific recognition and research on interventions aimed at supporting reef resilience to climate impacts, few restoration programs are currently incorporating climate change and resilience in project design. As climate change will continue to degrade coral reefs for decades to come, guidance is needed to support managers and restoration practitioners to conduct restoration that promotes resilience through enhanced coral reef recovery, resistance, and adaptation. Here, we address this critical implementation gap by providing recommendations that integrate resilience principles into restoration design and practice, including for project planning and design, coral selection, site selection, and broader ecosystem context. We also discuss future opportunities to improve restoration methods to support enhanced outcomes for coral reefs in response to climate change. As coral reefs are one of the most vulnerable ecosystems to climate change, interventions that enhance reef resilience will help to ensure restoration efforts have a greater chance of success in a warming world. They are also more likely to provide essential contributions to global targets to protect natural biodiversity and the human communities that rely on reefs.

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