Exposure to global change and microplastics elicits an immune response in an endangered coral
Frontiers in Marine Science
Global change is increasing seawater temperatures and decreasing oceanic pH, driving declines of coral reefs globally. Coral ecosystems are also impacted by local stressors, including microplastics, which are ubiquitous on reefs. While the independent effects of these global and local stressors are well-documented, their interactions remain less explored. Here, we examine the independent and combined effects of global change (ocean warming and acidification) and microplastics exposures on gene expression (GE) and microbial community composition in the endangered coral Acropora cervicornis. Nine genotypes were fragmented and maintained in one of four experimental treatments: 1) ambient conditions (ambient seawater, no microplastics; AMB); 2) microplastics treatment (ambient seawater, microplastics; MP); 3) global change conditions (warm and acidic conditions, no microplastics; OAW); and 4) multistressor treatment (warm and acidic conditions with microplastics; OAW+MP) for 22 days, after which corals were sampled for genome-wide GE profiling and ITS2 and 16S metabarcoding. Overall A. cervicornis GE responses to all treatments were subtle; however, corals in the multistressor treatment exhibited the strongest GE responses, and genes associated with innate immunity were overrepresented in this treatment. ITS2 analyses confirmed that all coral were associated with Symbiodinium ‘fitti’ and 16S analyses revealed similar microbiomes dominated by the bacterial associate Aquarickettsia, suggesting that these A. cervicornis fragments exhibited remarkably low variability in algal and bacterial community compositions. Future work should focus on functional differences across microbiomes, especially Aquarickettsia and viruses, in these responses. Overall, results suggest that when local stressors are coupled with global change, these interacting stressors present unique challenges to this endangered coral species.
Bove, C., Greene, K., Sugierski, S., Kriefall, N., Huzar, A., Hughes, A., Sharp, K. H., Fogarty, N., & Davies, S. (2023). Exposure to global change and microplastics elicits an immune response in an endangered coral. Frontiers in Marine Science, 9 https://doi.org/10.3389/fmars.2022.1037130