Going with the flow: corals in high-flow environments can beat the heat
Fifer, James et al. (2020), Going with the flow: corals in high-flow environments can beat the heat, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.bzkh18971
Coral reefs are experiencing unprecedented declines in health on a global scale leading to severe reductions in coral cover. One major cause of this decline is increasing sea surface temperature. However, conspecific colonies separated by even small spatial distances appear to show varying responses to this global stressor. One factor contributing to differential responses to heat stress is variability in the coral’s micro-environment, such as the amount of water flow a coral experiences. High flow provides corals with a variety of health benefits, including heat stress mitigation. Here, we investigate how water flow affects coral gene expression and provides resilience to increasing temperatures. We examined host and photosymbiont gene expression of Acropora cf. pulchra colonies in discrete in situ flow environments during a natural bleaching event. In addition, we conducted controlled ex situ tank experiments where we exposed A. cf. pulchra to different flow regimes and acute heat stress. Notably, we observed distinct flow-driven transcriptomic signatures related to energy expenditure, growth, heterotrophy and a healthy coral host-photosymbiont relationship. We also observed disparate transcriptomic responses during bleaching recovery between the high- and low-flow sites. Additionally, corals exposed to high flow showed “frontloading” of specific heat-stress related genes such as heat shock proteins, antioxidant enzymes, genes involved in apoptosis regulation, innate immunity, and cell adhesion. We posit that frontloading is a result of increased oxidative metabolism generated by the increased water movement. Gene frontloading may at least partially explain the observation that colonies in high-flow environments show higher survival and/or faster recovery in response to bleaching events.