Protein expression and genetic structure of the coral Porites lobata in an environmentally extreme Samoan back reef: does host genotype limit phenotypic plasticity
The degree to which coral reef ecosystems will be impacted by global climate change depends on regional and local differences in corals' susceptibility and resilience to environmental stressors. Here, we present data from a reciprocal transplant experiment using the common reef building coral Porites lobata between a highly fluctuating back reef environment that reaches stressful daily extremes, and a more stable, neighbouring forereef. Protein biomarker analyses assessing physiological contributions to stress resistance showed evidence for both fixed and environmental influence on biomarker response. Fixed influences were strongest for ubiquitin-conjugated proteins with consistently higher levels found in back reef source colonies both pre and post-transplant when compared with their forereef conspecifics. Additionally, genetic comparisons of back reef and forereef populations revealed significant population structure of both the nuclear ribosomal and mitochondrial genomes of the coral host (F-ST = 0.146 P < 0.0001, F-ST = 0.335 P < 0.0001 for rDNA and mtDNA, respectively), whereas algal endosymbiont populations were genetically indistinguishable between the two sites. We propose that the genotype of the coral host may drive limitations to the physiological responses of these corals when faced with new environmental conditions. This result is important in understanding genotypic and environmental interactions in the coral algal symbiosis and how corals may respond to future environmental changes.