Little is known about the potential for acclimatization or adaptation of corals to ocean acidification and even less about the molecular mechanisms underpinning these processes. Here we examine global gene expression patterns in corals and their intracellular algal symbionts from two replicate population pairs in Papua New Guinea that have undergone long-term acclimatization to natural variation in pCO2. In the coral host, only 61 genes were differentially expressed in response to pCO2 environment, but the pattern of change was highly consistent between replicate populations, likely reflecting the core expression homeostasis response to ocean acidification. Functional annotations highlight lipid metabolism and a change in the stress response capacity of corals as a key part of this process. Specifically, constitutive downregulation of molecular chaperones was observed, which may impact response to combined climate-change related stressors. Elevated CO2 has been hypothesized to benefit photosynthetic organisms but expression changes of in hospite Symbiodinium in response to acidification were greater and less consistent among reef populations. This population-specific response suggests hosts may need to adapt not only to an acidified environment, but also to changes in their Symbiodinium populations that may not be consistent among environments. This process adds another challenging dimension to the physiological process of coping with climate change.
Kenkel C., Moya A., Strahl J., Humphrey C. & Bay L., in press. Functional genomic analysis of corals from natural CO2-seeps reveal core molecular responses involved in acclimatization to ocean acidification. bioRxiv. Article (not peer-reviewed).