1. Ecology
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Widespread variation in heat tolerance and symbiont load are associated with growth tradeoffs in the coral Acropora hyacinthus in Palau

  1. Brendan Cornwell  Is a corresponding author
  2. Katrina Armstrong
  3. Nia S Walker
  4. Marilla Lippert
  5. Victor Nestor
  6. Yimnang Golbuu
  7. Stephen R Palumbi
  1. Hopkins Marine Station of Stanford University, United States
  2. Palau International Coral Reef Center, Palau
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Cite this article as: eLife 2021;10:e64790 doi: 10.7554/eLife.64790

Abstract

Climate change is dramatically changing ecosystem composition and productivity, leading scientists to consider the best approaches to map natural resistance and foster ecosystem resilience in the face of these changes. Here we present results from a large-scale experimental assessment of coral bleaching resistance, a critical trait for coral population persistence as oceans warm, in 221 colonies of the coral Acropora hyacinthus across 37 reefs in Palau. We find that bleaching resistant individuals inhabit most reefs but are found more often in warmer microhabitats. Our survey also found wide variation in symbiont concentration among colonies, and that colonies with lower symbiont load tended to be more bleaching resistant. By contrast, our data show that low symbiont load comes at the cost of lower growth rate, a tradeoff that may operate widely among corals across environments. Corals with high bleaching resistance have been suggested as a source for habitat restoration or selective breeding in order to increase coral reef resilience to climate change. Our maps show where these resilience corals can be found, but the existence of tradeoffs with heat resistance may suggest caution in unilateral use of this one trait in restoration.

Data availability

Temperature data have been deposited in the BCO-DMO database (https://www.bco-dmo.org/dataset/772445), all other data generated or analysed during this study are included in the manuscript and supporting files.

The following data sets were generated

Article and author information

Author details

  1. Brendan Cornwell

    Department of Biology, Hopkins Marine Station of Stanford University, Pacific Grove, United States
    For correspondence
    bcornwel@stanford.edu
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0001-7839-8379
  2. Katrina Armstrong

    Department of Biology, Hopkins Marine Station of Stanford University, Pacific Grove, United States
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
  3. Nia S Walker

    Department of Biology, Hopkins Marine Station of Stanford University, Pacific Grove, United States
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0002-6314-0436
  4. Marilla Lippert

    Department of Biology, Hopkins Marine Station of Stanford University, Pacific Grove, United States
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
  5. Victor Nestor

    Research, Palau International Coral Reef Center, Koror, Palau
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
  6. Yimnang Golbuu

    Director, Palau International Coral Reef Center, Koror, Palau
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
  7. Stephen R Palumbi

    Department of Biology, Hopkins Marine Station of Stanford University, Pacific Grove, United States
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.

Funding

National Science Foundation (OCE-1736736)

  • Stephen R Palumbi

Stanford University Office of Development

  • Stephen R Palumbi

The funders had no role in study design, data collection and interpretation, or the decision to submit the work for publication.

Reviewing Editor

  1. Meredith C Schuman, University of Zurich, Switzerland

Publication history

  1. Preprint posted: April 28, 2020 (view preprint)
  2. Received: November 19, 2020
  3. Accepted: August 6, 2021
  4. Accepted Manuscript published: August 13, 2021 (version 1)

Copyright

© 2021, Cornwell et al.

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License permitting unrestricted use and redistribution provided that the original author and source are credited.

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