Global change differentially modulates coral physiology and suggests future shifts in Caribbean reef assemblages

Global change driven by anthropogenic carbon emissions is altering ecosystems at unprecedented rates, especially coral reefs, whose symbiosis with algal endosymbionts ise particularly vulnerable to increasing ocean temperatures and altered carbonate chemistry. Here, we assess the physiological responses of the coral holobiont (animal host + algal symbiont) of three Caribbean coral species from two reef environments after exposure to simulated ocean warming (28, 31 °C), acidification (300 – 3290 μatm), and the combination of stressors for 93 days. We used multidimensional analyses to assess how multiple coral holobiont physiological parameters respond to ocean acidification and warming. Our results demonstrate significantly diminishing holobiont physiology in S. siderea and P. astreoides in response to projected ocean acidification, while future warming elicited severe declines in P. strigosa. Offshore S. siderea fragments exhibited higher physiological plasticity than inshore counterparts, suggesting that this offshore population has the capacity to modulate their physiology in response to changing conditions, but at a cost to the holobiont. Plasticity of P. strigosa and P. astreoides was not clearly different between natal reef environments, however, temperature evoked a greater plastic response in both species. Interestingly, while these species exhibit unique physiological responses to ocean acidification and warming, when data from all three species are modeled together, convergent stress responses to these conditions are observed, highlighting the overall sensitivities of tropical corals to these stressors. Our results demonstrate that while ocean warming is a severe acute stressor that will have dire consequences for coral reefs globally, chronic exposure to acidification may also impact coral physiology to a greater extent than previously assumed. The variety of responses to global change we observe across species will likely manifest in altered Caribbean reef assemblages in the future.

Bove C. B., Davies S. W., Ries J. B., Umbanhowar J., Thomasson B. C., Farquhar E. B., McCoppin J. A., D Castillo K., in review. Global change differentially modulates coral physiology and suggests future shifts in Caribbean reef assemblages. bioRxiv. Article.

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