Are all eggs created equal? A case study from the Hawaiian reef-building coral Montipora capitata.
Parental effects have been largely unexplored in marine organisms and may play a significant role in dictating the phenotypic range of traits in coral offspring, influencing their ability to survive environmental challenges. This study explored parental effects and life-stage differences in the Hawaiian reef-building coral Montipora capitata from different environments by examining the biochemical composition of mature coral colonies and their eggs. Our results indicate that there are large biochemical differences between adults and eggs, with the latter containing higher concentration of lipids (mostly wax esters), ubiquitinated proteins (which may indicate high turnover rate of proteins) and antioxidants (e.g., manganese superoxide dismutase). Adults displayed high phenotypic plasticity, with corals from a high-light environment having more wax esters, lighter tissue d13C signatures and higher Symbiodinium densities than adults from the low-light environment who had higher content of accessory pigments. A green-algal pigment (a-carotene) and powerful antioxidant was present in eggs; it is unclear whether this pigment is acquired from heterotrophic food sources or from endolithic green algae living in the adult coral skeletons. Despite the broad phenotypic plasticity displayed by adults, parental investment in the context of provisioning of energy reserves and antioxidant defense was the same in eggs from the different sites. Such equality in investment maximizes the capacity of all embryos and larvae to cope with challenging conditions associated with floating at the surface and to disperse successfully until an appropriate habitat for settlement is found.