Variation in susceptibility among three Caribbean coral species and their algal symbionts indicates the threatened staghorn coral, Acropora cervicornis, is particularly susceptible to elevated nutrients and heat stress

Ana M. Palacio-Castro, Caroline E. Dennison, Stephanie M. Rosales, Andrew C. Baker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations

Abstract

Coral cover is declining worldwide due to multiple interacting threats. We compared the effects of elevated nutrients and temperature on three Caribbean corals: Acropora cervicornis, Orbicella faveolata, and Siderastrea siderea. Colonies hosting different algal symbionts were exposed to either ambient nutrients (A), elevated NH4 (N), or elevated NH4 + PO4 (N + P) at control temperatures (26 °C) for > 2 months, followed by a 3-week thermal challenge (31.5 °C). A. cervicornis hosted Symbiodinium (S. fitti) and was highly susceptible to the combination of elevated nutrients and temperature. During heat stress, A. cervicornis pre-exposed to elevated nutrients experienced 84%–100% mortality and photochemical efficiency (Fv/Fm) declines of 41–50%. In comparison, no mortality and lower Fv/Fm declines (11–20%) occurred in A. cervicornis that were heat-stressed but not pre-exposed to nutrients. O. faveolata and S. siderea response to heat stress was determined by their algal symbiont community and was not affected by nutrients. O. faveolata predominantly hosted Durusdinium trenchii or Breviolum, but only corals hosting Breviolum were susceptible to heat, experiencing 100% mortality, regardless of nutrient treatment. S. siderea colonies predominantly hosted Cladocopium C1 (C. goreaui), Cladocopium C3, D. trenchii, or variable proportions of Cladocopium C1 and D. trenchii. This species was resilient to elevated nutrients and temperature, with no significant mortality in any of the treatments. However, during heat stress, S. siderea hosting Cladocopium C3 suffered higher reductions in Fv/Fm (41–56%) compared to S. siderea hosting Cladocopium C1 and D. trenchii (17–26% and 10–16%, respectively). These differences in holobiont susceptibility to elevated nutrients and heat may help explain historical declines in A. cervicornis starting decades earlier than other Caribbean corals. Our results suggest that tackling only warming temperatures may be insufficient to ensure the continued persistence of Caribbean corals, especially A. cervicornis. Reducing nutrient inputs to reefs may also be necessary for these iconic coral species to survive.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1601-1613
Number of pages13
JournalCoral Reefs
Volume40
Issue number5
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 2021

Keywords

  • Coral bleaching
  • Coral mortality
  • Heat stress
  • Multiple stressors
  • Nutrients
  • Water quality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aquatic Science

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