- A change in the timing of onset of the soft coral breeding event occurred under elevated temperature and reduced pH seawater conditions.
- A disruption of the synchronicity of the breeding event occurred under elevated temperature and reduced pH seawater conditions.
- End-of-the-century seawater conditions are expected to affect the reproduction of the soft coral Rhytisma fulvum.
- Planula survival and polyp metamorphosis rates were significantly reduced under both end-of-the-century seawater conditions compared to propagules reared under ambient conditions.
- The photosynthetic capacity of the parent soft coral colonies was reduced under the end-of-the-century seawater conditions in comparison to those under the ambient conditions.
Coral reefs are threatened worldwide by global climate change, manifested in anthropogenic ocean warming and acidification. Despite the importance of coral sexual reproduction for the continuity of coral reefs, our understanding of the extent of the impact of climate change on coral sexual reproduction, particularly on coral reproductive phenology and early life stages, is limited. Here, we experimentally examined the effects of predicted end-of-the-century seawater conditions on the sexual reproduction and photosynthetic capacity of a Red-Sea zooxanthellate octocoral, Rhytisma fulvum. Sexually mature colonies were exposed to ambient temperature and pH conditions and to Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP) conditions (4.5 and 8.5), five weeks prior to their expected surface-brooding event. The reproductive phenology of the colonies under the simulated seawater conditions was compared to that on the natural reef. In addition, subsequent planulae development and their metamorphosis into primary polyps under the same RCP conditions as their parent colonies were monitored in a running seawater system. The results reveal that both RCP conditions led to a change in the timing of onset of the surface-brooding event and its synchronicity. In contrast, the surface-brooding event under ambient conditions co-occurred with that of the in-situ reef colonies and maintained its synchrony. Similarly, planula survival and polyp metamorphosis rate were significantly reduced under both RCP conditions compared to propagules reared under ambient conditions. In addition, the photosynthetic capacity of the parent colonies under both RCPs showed a reduction relative to that under the ambient conditions in the experiment, suggesting a reduction in carbon fixation during the late stages of gametogenesis. While our findings indicate that octocoral reproductive phenology is affected by environmental changes, further work is required in order to elucidate the long-term implications for the R. fulvum population in the northern Red Sea.
Liberman R., Fine M. & Benayahu Y., in press. Simulated climate change scenarios impact the reproduction and early life stages of a soft coral.
Marine Environmental Research. Article (subscription required).