Impacts of temperature increase and acidification on thickness of the surface mucopolysaccharide layer of the Caribbean coral Diploria spp.

Coral mechanisms of resilience and resistance to stressors such as increasing sea surface temperature and ocean acidification must first be understood in order to facilitate the survival of coral reefs as we know them. One such mechanism is production of the protective surface mucopolysaccharide layer (SML). In this study, we investigated changes in the thickness of the SML in response to increasing temperature and acidification for the three Caribbean scleractinian coral species of the genus Diploria, which have been shown to exhibit differential resilience to disease and bleaching. Among the three species, Diploria strigosa is known to have a higher susceptibility to disease, Diploria labyrinthiformis is known to bleach more quickly, and Diploria clivosa is relatively unstudied. When temperature was increased from 25 to 31 °C over a 1- or 6-week period, the overall thickness of the SML decreased from 33 to 55 % for all three species. Average SML thickness at 25 °C for all three species ranged from 106 to 156 μm, while average thickness at 31 °C ranged from 64 to 86 μm. SML thickness was significantly different among species at 25 °C, but not at 31 °C. D. labyrinthiformis demonstrated lower fragment mortality due to thermal stress when compared to the other Diploria species. Acidification from pH 8.2 to 7.7 over 5 weeks had no effect on SML thickness for any species. The observed decrease in SML thickness in response to increased temperature might be attributed to a decrease in the production of mucus or an increase in the viscosity of the SML. These findings may help to explain the increased prevalence of coral disease during the warmer months, since increased temperature compromises an important aspect of coral innate immunity, as well as differences in disease and bleaching susceptibilities between Diploria species.

Pratte Z. A. & Richardson L. L., in press. Impacts of temperature increase and acidification on thickness of the surface mucopolysaccharide layer of the Caribbean coral Diploria spp. Coral Reefs. Article (restricted access).


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