Skip to main content
Dryad logo

Untangling the molecular basis of coral response to sedimentation


Bollati, Elena (2021), Untangling the molecular basis of coral response to sedimentation, Dryad, Dataset,


Urbanized coral reefs are often chronically affected by sedimentation and reduced light levels, yet many species of corals appear to be able to thrive under these highly disturbed conditions. Recently, these marginal ecosystems have gained attention as potential climate change refugia due to the shading effect of suspended sediment, as well as potential reservoirs for stress-tolerant species. However, little research exists on the impact of sedimentation on coral physiology, particularly at the molecular level. Here, we investigated the transcriptomic response to sediment stress in corals of the family Merulinidae from a chronically turbid reef (one genet each of Goniastrea pectinata and Mycedium elephantotus from Singapore) and a clear-water reef (multiple genets of G. pectinata from the Gulf of Aqaba/Eilat). In two ex-situ experiments, we exposed corals to either natural sediment or artificial sediment enriched with organic matter and used whole-transcriptome sequencing (RNAseq) to quantify gene expression. Analysis revealed a shared basis for coral transcriptomic response to sediment stress, which involves the expression of genes broadly related to energy metabolism and immune response. In particular, sediment exposure induced upregulation of anaerobic glycolysis and glyoxylate bypass enzymes, as well as genes involved in hydrogen sulfide metabolism and in pathogen pattern recognition. Our results point towards hypoxia as a likely driver of this transcriptomic response, providing a molecular basis to previous work that identified hypoxia as a primary cause of tissue necrosis in sediment-stressed corals. Potential metabolic and immunity trade-offs of corals living under chronic sedimentation should be considered in future studies on the ecology and conservation of turbid reefs.