Developmental carryover effects of ocean warming and acidification in corals from a potential climate refugium, the Gulf of Aqaba

Jessica Bellworthy, Malika Menoud, Thomas Krueger, Anders Meibom, Maoz Fine

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21 Scopus citations


Coral reefs are degrading from the effects of anthropogenic activities, including climate change. Under these stressors, their ability to survive depends upon existing phenotypic plasticity, but also transgenerational adaptation. Parental effects are ubiquitous in nature, yet empirical studies of these effects in corals are scarce, particularly in the context of climate change. This study exposed mature colonies of the common reef-building coral Stylophora pistillata from the Gulf of Aqaba to seawater conditions likely to occur just beyond the end of this century during the peak planulae brooding season (Representative Concentration Pathway 8.5: pH −0.4 and +5°C beyond present day). Parent and planulae physiology were assessed at multiple time points during the experimental incubation. After 5 weeks of incubation, the physiology of the parent colonies exhibited limited treatment-induced changes. All significant time-dependent changes in physiology occurred in both ambient and treatment conditions. Planulae were also resistant to future ocean conditions, with protein content, symbiont density, photochemistry, survival and settlement success not significantly different compared with under ambient conditions. High variability in offspring physiology was independent of parental or offspring treatments and indicate the use of a bet-hedging strategy in this population. This study thus demonstrates weak climate-change-associated carryover effects. Furthermore, planulae display temperature and pH resistance similar to those of adult colonies and therefore do not represent a larger future population size bottleneck. The findings add support to the emerging hypothesis that the Gulf of Aqaba may serve as a coral climate change refugium aided by these corals’ inherent broad physiological resistance.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberjeb186940
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2 Jan 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019. Published by The Company of Biologists Ltd


Thanks are extended to Red Sea Simulator aquarium technician Dror Komet for assistance in the technical maintenance of the system and SCUBA diving tasks. Dr Emma Gibbin is thanked for helpful comments and discussion on the manuscript. Further, we thank Tom Shlesinger for providing the in situ temperature data in Fig. S2. We also thank other members of staff at the IUI who assisted in this project. Two reviewers significantly contributed to the improvement of the manuscript. Partial funding was provided by the Israel Science Foundation [grant no. 1794/16] and the United States–Israel Binational Science Foundation [grant no. 2016403] to M.F.

FundersFunder number
United States-Israel Binational Science Foundation2016403
Israel Science Foundation1794/16
Universidad de Buenos Aires


    • Early life history
    • Ocean acidification
    • Parental effects
    • Phenotypic plasticity
    • Planulae
    • Trans-generational


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