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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 692:53-65 (2022)  -  DOI:

Shaping coral traits: plasticity more than filtering

Viviana Brambilla1,2,*, Miguel Barbosa1,3, Inga Dehnert4,5, Joshua Madin6, Davide Maggioni4,5, Clare Peddie7, Maria Dornelas1,2

1Centre for Biological Diversity, University of St Andrews, St Andrews KY16 9TH, UK
2Scottish Ocean Institute, University of St Andrews, St Andrews KY16 8LB, UK
3CESAM, Departamento de Biologia, Universidade de Aveiro, Campus de Santiago, 3810 Aveiro, Portugal
4Department of Environmental and Earth Sciences (DISAT), University of Milano - Bicocca, 20126 Milan, Italy
5Marine Research and High Education (MaRHE) Center, University of Milano - Bicocca, Faafu Magoodhoo, Maldives
6Hawai‘i Institute of Marine Biology, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, Kaneohe, Hawaii 96744, USA
7School of Biology, University of St Andrews, St Andrews KY16 8LB, UK
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: The structure of an ecosystem is usually determined by the shape of the organisms that build it, commonly known as ecosystem engineers. Understanding to what extent plasticity and environmental filtering determine variation in the physical structure of ecosystem engineers is necessary to predict how ecosystem structure may change. Here, we explored coral survival and the plasticity of morphological traits that are critical for habitat provision in coral reefs. We conducted a reciprocal clonal transplant experiment in which branching corals from the genera Porites and Acropora were moved to and from a deep and a shallow site within a lagoon in the Maldives. Survival and trait analyses revealed that transplant destination consistently induced the strongest changes, particularly among Acropora spp. The origin of the corals had only marginal effects on some of the traits. We also detected variation in the way individuals from the same species and site differentiate in their shape, showing that traits linked to habitat provision are phenotypically plastic. The results suggest that in the quite common lagoonal conditions studied here, coral phenotypic plasticity plays a stronger role than environmental filtering, in determining the zonation of coral morphologies, and consequently the habitats they provide for other organisms.

KEY WORDS: Niche construction · Coral reefs · Environmental filtering · Phenotypic plasticity · Geometric ecology · Porites · Acropora

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Cite this article as: Brambilla V, Barbosa M, Dehnert I, Madin J, Maggioni D, Peddie C, Dornelas M (2022) Shaping coral traits: plasticity more than filtering. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 692:53-65.

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