Environmentally-induced parental or developmental conditioning influences coral offspring ecological performance

The persistence of reef building corals is threatened by human-induced environmental change. Maintaining coral reefs into the future requires not only the survival of adults, but also the influx of recruits to promote genetic diversity and retain cover following adult mortality. Few studies examine the linkages among multiple life stages of corals, despite a growing knowledge of carryover effects in other systems. We provide a novel test of coral parental conditioning to ocean acidification (OA) and tracking of offspring for 6 months post-release to better understand parental or developmental priming impacts on the processes of offspring recruitment and growth. Coral planulation was tracked for 3 months following adult exposure to high pCO2 and offspring from the second month were reciprocally exposed to ambient and high pCO2 for an additional 6 months. Offspring of parents exposed to high pCO2 had greater settlement and survivorship immediately following release, retained survivorship benefits during 1 and 6 months of continued exposure, and further displayed growth benefits to at least 1 month post release. Enhanced performance of offspring from parents exposed to high conditions was maintained despite the survivorship in both treatments declining in continued exposure to OA. Conditioning of the adults while they brood their larvae, or developmental acclimation of the larvae inside the adult polyps, may provide a form of hormetic conditioning, or environmental priming that elicits stimulatory effects. Defining mechanisms of positive acclimatization, with potential implications for carry over effects, cross-generational plasticity, and multi-generational plasticity, is critical to better understanding ecological and evolutionary dynamics of corals under regimes of increasing environmental disturbance. Considering environmentally-induced parental or developmental legacies in ecological and evolutionary projections may better account for coral reef response to the chronic stress regimes characteristic of climate change.

Putnam H. M., Ritson-Williams R., Cruz J. A., Davidson J. M. & Gates R. D., 2020. Environmentally-induced parental or developmental conditioning influences coral offspring ecological performance. Scientific Reports 10: 13664. doi: 10.1038/s41598-020-70605-x. Article.

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