Acclimatization of the tropical reef coral Acropora millepora to hyperthermal stress

Anthony John Bellantuono, Florida International University


The demise of reef-building corals potentially lies on the horizon, given ongoing climate change amid other anthropogenic environmental stressors. If corals cannot acclimatize or adapt to changing conditions, dramatic declines in the extent and health of the living reefs are expected within the next half century. The primary and proximal global threat to corals is climate change. Reef-building corals are dependent upon a nutritional symbiosis with photosynthetic dinoflagellates belonging to the group Symbiodinium. . The symbiosis between the cnidarian host and algal partner is a stress-sensitive relationship; temperatures just 1°C above normal thermal maxima can result in the breakdown of the symbiosis, resulting in coral bleaching (the loss of Symbiodinium and/or associated photopigments) and ultimately, colony death. As ocean temperatures continue to rise, corals will either acclimatize or adapt to changing conditions, or will perish. By experimentally preconditioning the coral Acropora millepora via sublethal heat treatment, the coral acquired thermal tolerance, resisting bleaching during subsequent hyperthermal stress. The complex nature of the coral holobiont translates to multiple possible explanations for acclimatization: acquired thermal tolerance could potentially originate from the host itself, the Symbiodinium, or from the bacterial community associated with the coral. By examining the type of in hospite Symbiodinium and the bacterial community prior acclimation and after thermal challenge, it is shown that short-term acclimatization is not due to a distinct change in the dinoflagellate or prokaryote community. Though the microbial partnerships remain without considerable flux in preconditioned corals, the host transcriptome is dynamic. One dominant pattern was the apparent tuning of gene expression observed between preconditioned and non-preconditioned treatments, showing a modulated transcriptomic response to stress. Additionally several genes were upregulated in association with thermal tolerance, including antiapoptotic genes, lectins, and oxidative stress response genes. Upstream of two of these thermal tolerance genes, inhibitor of NFκB and mannose-binding lectin, DNA polymorphisms were identified which vary significantly between the northern and southern Great Barrier Reef. The impact of these mutations in putative promoter regions remains to be seen, but variation across thermally-disparate geography serves to generate hypotheses regarding the role of regulatory element evolution in a coral adaptation context.

Subject Area

Climate Change|Biological oceanography

Recommended Citation

Bellantuono, Anthony John, "Acclimatization of the tropical reef coral Acropora millepora to hyperthermal stress" (2013). ProQuest ETD Collection for FIU. AAI3608690.