M.S. Marine Biology
Scleractinian corals are the ‘engineers’ of tropical coral reef ecosystems. Their three-dimensional structure provides habitat for thousands of fish and invertebrate species. The persistence of corals is threatened by climate change. In this study I investigated if corals may be able to increase tolerance to ocean warming through developmental acclimation, i.e. if corals that experience warmer temperatures during embryonic and larval development are better able to cope with higher temperatures later in life. Larvae of the broadcast spawning coral Montastraea cavernosa were raised at ambient (29°C) and future projected ocean warming temperatures (+2°C, 31°C). After larval settlement, coral juveniles from each treatment were split and reared for two months at either current or +2°C conditions. Larvae reared at the warmer temperature had lower survival and displayed a smaller size at settlement. Juveniles that were in the warmer conditions had faster growth rates. Individuals raised during larval and juvenile stages at 31°C had faster growth rates than individuals only in the elevated temperature treatment after settlement, thus indicating that developmental acclimation may have occurred. However, the highest mortality also occurred in this treatment, therefore the growth results could also be explained by positive selection of the most thermally tolerant individuals. My results suggest that acclimation and/or directed selection may help corals withstand future rises in ocean temperature.
Heather L. Schaneen. 2016. Coral Persistence to Ocean Warming via Developmental Acclimation. Master's thesis. Nova Southeastern University. Retrieved from NSUWorks, . (420)