Changes in physiological performance and protein expression in the larvae of the coral Pocillopora damicornis and their symbionts in response to elevated temperature and acidification

Highlights

  • Thermal stress reduced and acidification increased larval photosynthesis in P. damicornis.
  • Thermal stress decreased light reaction and carbon fixation in endosymbionts.
  • Thermal stress decreased dissolved inorganic carbon transport in coral host and symbionts.
  • Acidification upregulated photosystem I iron‑sulfur center protein levels in endosymbionts.

Abstract

Climate change causes ocean warming and acidification, which threaten coral reef ecosystems. Ocean warming and acidification cause bleaching and mortality, and decrease calcification in adult corals, leading to changes in the composition of coral communities; however, their interactive effects on coral larvae are not comprehensively understood. To examine the underlying molecular mechanisms of larval responses to elevated temperature and pCO2, we examined the physiological performance and protein expression profiles of Pocillopora damicornis at two temperatures (29 and 33 °C) and pCO2 levels (500 and 1000 μatm) for 5 d. Extensive physiological and proteomic changes were observed in coral larvae. The results indicated a significant decrease in net photosynthesis (PNET) and autotrophic capability (PNET/RD) of larvae exposed to elevated temperature but a marked increase in PNET and PNET/RD of larvae exposed to high pCO2 levels. Elevated temperature significantly reduced endosymbiont densities (to approximately 70%) and photochemical efficiency, indicating that warming impaired host-symbiont symbiosis. Expression of photosynthesis-related proteins, the photosystem (PS) I reaction center subunits IV and XI as well as oxygen-evolving enhancer 1, was downregulated at higher temperatures in symbionts, whereas expression of the PS I iron‑sulfur center protein was increased under high pCO2 conditions. Furthermore, expression of phosphoribulokinase (involved in the Calvin cycle) and phosphoenolpyruvate carboxylase (related to the C4 pathway) was downregulated in symbionts under thermal stress; this finding suggests reduced carbon fixation at high temperatures. The abundance of carbonic anhydrase-associated proteins, which are predicted to exert biochemical roles in dissolved inorganic carbon transport in larvae, was reduced in coral host and symbionts at high temperatures. These results elucidate potential mechanisms underlying the responses of coral larvae exposed to elevated temperature and acidification and suggest an important role of symbionts in the response to warming and acidification.

Sun Y., Jiang L., Gong S., Diaz-Pulido G., Yuan X., Tong H., Huang L., Zhou G., Zhang Y., Huang H., 2021. Changes in physiological performance and protein expression in the larvae of the coral Pocillopora damicornis and their symbionts in response to elevated temperature and acidification. Science of the Total Environment: 151251. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2021.151251. Article (subscription required).


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