Preconditioning in the reef-building coral Pocillopora damicornis and the potential for trans-generational acclimatization in coral larvae under future climate change conditions.
Journal of Experimental Biology
Coral reefs are globally threatened by climate change-related ocean warming and ocean acidification (OA). To date, slow-response mechanisms such as genetic adaptation have been considered the major determinant of coral reef persistence, with little consideration of rapid-response acclimatization-mechanisms. These rapid mechanisms such as parental effects that can contribute to trans-generational acclimatization (e.g. epigenetics) have, however, been identified as important contributors to offspring response in other systems. We present the first evidence of parental effects in a cross-generational exposure to temperature and OA in reef-building corals. Here, we exposed adults to high (28.9 oC, 805 mu atm pCO2) or ambient (26.5 oC, 417 mu atm pCO2) temperature and OA treatments during the larval brooding period. Exposure to high treatment negatively affected adult performance, but their larvae exhibited size differences and metabolic acclimation when subsequently re-exposed, unlike larvae from parents exposed to ambient conditions. Understanding the innate capacity corals possess to respond to current and future climatic conditions is essential to reef protection and maintenance. Our results identify that parental effects may have an important role through (1) ameliorating the effects of stress through preconditioning and adaptive plasticity, and/or (2) amplifying the negative parental response through latent effects on future life stages. Whether the consequences of parental effects and the potential for trans-generational acclimatization are beneficial or maladaptive, our work identifies a critical need to expand currently proposed climate change outcomes for corals to further assess rapid response mechanisms that include non-genetic inheritance through parental contributions and classical epigenetic mechanisms.