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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 646:45-68 (2020)  -  DOI:

Genetic differences in thermal tolerance among colonies of threatened coral Acropora cervicornis: potential for adaptation to increasing temperature

Kelsey Yetsko1, Michelle Ross2, Anthony Bellantuono3, Daniel Merselis3, Mauricio Rodriguez-Lanetty3, Matthew R. Gilg1,*

1Department of Biology, University of North Florida, Jacksonville, FL 32224, USA
2Department of Biology, Hastings College, Hastings, NE 68901, USA
3Department of Biological Sciences, Florida International University, Miami, FL 33199, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Climate change is resulting in warmer temperatures that are negatively impacting corals. Understanding how much individuals within a population vary in their thermal tolerance and whether this variation is heritable is important in determining whether a species can adapt to climate change. To address this, Acropora cervicornis fragments from 20 genetically distinct colonies collected from the Coral Restoration Foundation Tavernier nursery (Florida, USA) were kept at either ambient (28 ± 1°C) or elevated (32 ± 1°C) temperatures, and mortality was monitored for 26 d. Both broad-sense (H2 ) and narrow-sense (h2) heritability of thermal tolerance were estimated to determine the amount of genetic variation underlying survival to elevated temperature. To understand the physiological basis of thermal tolerance, tissue from both treatments was taken 12 h after the start of the experiment to investigate gene expression at the mRNA and protein level between tolerant and susceptible colonies. Results revealed that this population has considerable total genetic variation in thermal tolerance (H2 = 0.528), but low variance in relatedness among colonies prevented us from making any conclusions regarding h2. Despite high transcriptomic variability among and within colonies, 40 genes were consistently and significantly different between tolerant and susceptible colonies, and could be potential biomarkers for thermal tolerance should they be verified in a larger sample. Overall, the results suggest that this population has substantial genetic variation for traits that directly impact thermal tolerance; however, their response to projected increases in temperature will depend on more precise estimates of the additive components of this variation (h2).

KEY WORDS: Thermal tolerance · Heritability · Acropora cervicornis · Adaptation · Coral · Florida Keys

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Cite this article as: Yetsko K, Ross M, Bellantuono A, Merselis D, Rodriguez-Lanetty M, Gilg MR (2020) Genetic differences in thermal tolerance among colonies of threatened coral Acropora cervicornis: potential for adaptation to increasing temperature. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 646:45-68.

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