Rapid shifts in thermal reaction norms and tolerance of brooded coral larvae following parental heat acclimation

Lei Jiang, Cheng-Yue Liu, Guoxin Cui, Lin-Tao Huang, Xiao-Lei Yu, You-Fang Sun, Hao-Ya Tong, Guo-Wei Zhou, Xiang-Cheng Yuan, Yi-Si Hu, Wen-Liang Zhou, Manuel Aranda, Pei-Yuan Qian, Hui Huang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Thermal priming of reef corals can enhance their heat tolerance, however, the legacy effects of heat stress during parental brooding on larval resilience remain understudied. This study investigated whether preconditioning adult coral Pocillopora damicornis to high temperatures (29°C and 32°C) could better prepare their larvae for heat stress. Results showed that heat-acclimated adults brooded larvae with reduced symbiont density and shifted thermal performance curves. Reciprocal transplant experiments demonstrated higher bleaching resistance and better photosynthetic and autotrophic performance in heat-exposed larvae from acclimated adults compared to unacclimated adults. RNA-seq revealed strong cellular stress responses in larvae from heat-acclimated adults that could have been effective in rescuing host cells from stress, as evidenced by the widespread upregulation of genes involved in cell cycle and mitosis. For symbionts, a molecular coordination between light harvesting, photoprotection and carbon fixation was detected in larvae from heat-acclimated adults, which may help optimize photosynthetic activity and yield under high temperature. Furthermore, heat acclimation led to opposing regulations of symbiont catabolic and anabolic pathways and favored nutrient translocation to the host and thus a functional symbiosis. Notwithstanding, the improved heat tolerance was paralleled by reduced light-enhanced dark respiration, indicating metabolic depression for energy saving. Our findings suggest that adult heat acclimation can rapidly shift thermal tolerance of brooded coral larvae and provide integrated physiological and molecular evidence for this adaptive plasticity, which could increase climate resilience. However, the metabolic depression may be maladaptive for long-term organismal performance, highlighting the importance of curbing carbon emissions to better protect corals.
Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalMolecular Ecology
StatePublished - Dec 18 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics


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