Common reef-building coral in the Northern Red Sea resistant to elevated temperature and acidification

Coral reefs are currently experiencing substantial ecological impoverishment as a result of anthropogenic stressors, and the majority of reefs are facing immediate risk. Increasing ocean surface temperatures induce frequent coral mass bleaching events—the breakdown of the nutritional photo-symbiosis with intracellular algae (genus: Symbiodinium). Here, we report that Stylophora pistillata from a highly diverse reef in the Gulf of Aqaba showed no signs of bleaching despite spending 1.5 months at 1–2°C above their long-term summer maximum (amounting to 11 degree heating weeks) and a seawater pH of 7.8. Instead, their symbiotic dinoflagellates exhibited improved photochemistry, higher pigmentation and a doubling in net oxygen production, leading to a 51% increase in primary productivity. Nanoscale secondary ion mass spectrometry imaging revealed subtle cellular-level shifts in carbon and nitrogen metabolism under elevated temperatures, but overall host and symbiont biomass proxies were not significantly affected. Now living well below their thermal threshold in the Gulf of Aqaba, these corals have been evolutionarily selected for heat tolerance during their migration through the warm Southern Red Sea after the last ice age. This may allow them to withstand future warming for a longer period of time, provided that successful environmental conservation measures are enacted across national boundaries in the region.

Krueger T., Horwitz N., Bodin J., Giovani M.-E., Escrig S., Meibom A. & Fine M., 2017. Common reef-building coral in the Northern Red Sea resistant to elevated temperature and acidification. Royal Society Open Science 4:170038. Article. 

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