Complex dynamics of coral gene expression responses to low pH across species

Coral capacity to tolerate low pH affects coral community composition and, ultimately, reef ecosystem function. Low pH submarine discharges (‘Ojo’; Yucatán, México) represent a natural laboratory to study plasticity and acclimatization to low pH in relation to ocean acidification. A previous >2-year coral transplant experiment to ambient and low pH common garden sites revealed differential survivorship across species and sites, providing a framework to compare mechanistic responses to differential pH exposures. Here, we examined gene expression responses of transplants of three species of reef-building corals (Porites astreoidesPorites porites and Siderastrea siderea) and their algal endosymbiont communities (Symbiodiniaceae) originating from low pH (Ojo) and ambient pH native origins (Lagoon or Reef). Transplant pH environment had the greatest effect on gene expression of Porites astreoides hosts and symbionts and P. porites hosts. Host P. astreoides Ojo natives transplanted to ambient pH showed a similar gene expression profile to Lagoon natives remaining in ambient pH, providing evidence of plasticity in response to ambient pH conditions. Although origin had a larger effect on host S. siderea gene expression due to differences in symbiont genera within Reef and Lagoon/Ojo natives, subtle effects of low pH on all origins demonstrated acclimatization potential. All corals responded to low pH by differentially expressing genes related to pH regulation, ion transport, calcification, cell adhesion and stress/immune response. This study demonstrates that the magnitude of coral gene expression responses to pH varies considerably among populations, species and holobionts, which could differentially affect acclimatization to and impacts of ocean acidification.

Radice V. Z., Martinez A., Paytan A., Potts D. C. & Barshis D. J., in press. Complex dynamics of coral gene expression responses to low pH across species. Molecular Ecology. Article.

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