BUMP Faculty Sarah Davies and Postdoc Associate Hannah Aichelman Featured in Ecology and Evolution!

BUMP Faculty Sarah Davies and Postdoc Associate Hannah Aichelman featured in Ecology and Evolution on a study of mortality events and their effects on genetic expression responses of corals and algae. In July 2016, East Bank of Flower Garden Banks (FGB) National Marine Sanctuary experienced a localized mortality event (LME) of multiple invertebrate species that ultimately led to reductions in coral cover. Abiotic data taken directly after the event suggested that acute deoxygenation contributed to the mortality. Despite the large impact of this event on the coral community, there was no direct evidence that this LME was driven by acute deoxygenation, and thus we explored whether gene expression responses of corals to the LME would indicate what abiotic factors may have contributed to the LME. Gene expression of affected and unaffected corals sampled during the mortality event revealed evidence of the physiological consequences of the LME on coral hosts and their algal symbionts from two congeneric species (Orbicella franksi and Orbicella faveolata). Affected colonies of both species differentially regulated genes involved in mitochondrial regulation and oxidative stress. To further test the hypothesis that deoxygenation led to the LME, we measured coral host and algal symbiont gene expression in response to ex situ experimental deoxygenation (control = 6.9 ± 0.08 mg L−1, anoxic = 0.083 ± 0.017 mg L−1) in healthy O. faveolata colonies from the FGB. However, this deoxygenation experiment revealed divergent gene expression patterns compared to the corals sampled during the LME and was more similar to a generalized coral environmental stress response. It is therefore likely that while the LME was connected to low oxygen, it was a series of interconnected stressors that elicited the unique gene expression responses observed here. These in situ and ex situ data highlight how field responses to stressors are unique from those in controlled laboratory conditions, and that the complexities of deoxygenation events in the field likely arise from interactions between multiple environmental factors simultaneously. Read more here!