Journal of Experimental Biology
To understand the effects of global climate change on reef-building corals, a thorough investigation of their physiological mechanisms of acclimatization is warranted. However, static temperature manipulations may underestimate the thermal complexity of the reefs in which many corals live. For instance, corals of Houbihu, Taiwan, experience changes in temperature of up to 10°C over the course of a day during spring-tide upwelling events. To better understand the phenotypic plasticity of these corals, a laboratory-based experiment was conducted whereby specimens of Seriatopora hystrix from an upwelling reef (Houbihu) and conspecifics from a non-upwelling reef (Houwan) were exposed to both a stable seawater temperature (26°C) regime and a regime characterized by a 6°C fluctuation (23–29°C) over a 12h period for 7 days. A suite of physiological and molecular parameters was measured in samples of both treatments, as well as in experimental controls, to determine site of origin (SO) and temperature treatment (TT) responses. Only chlorophyll a (chl a) concentration and growth demonstrated the hypothesized trend of higher levels when exposed to a TT that mimicked SO conditions. In contrast, chl a, maximum dark-adapted quantum yield of photosystem II (Fv/Fm), and Symbiodinium ribulose-1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase/oxygenase (rbcL), photosystem I (psI, subunit III) and phosphoglycolate phosphatase (pgpase) mRNA expression demonstrated significant TT effects. Specifically, levels of these response variables were higher in samples exposed to a variable temperature regime, suggesting that S. hystrix may acclimate to fluctuating temperatures by increasing its capacity for photosynthesis.