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Keywords:

  • coral reef;
  • green fluorescent protein;
  • metabolism;
  • phenotypic plasticity;
  • transcriptomics

Abstract

We investigated variation in transcript abundance in the scleractinian coral, Acropora millepora, within and between populations characteristically exposed to different turbidity regimes and hence different levels of light and suspended particulate matter. We examined phenotypic plasticity by comparing levels of gene expression between source populations and following 10 days of acclimatization to a laboratory environment. Analyses of variance revealed that 0.05% of genes were differentially expressed between source populations, 1.32% following translocation into a common laboratory and 0.07% in the interaction (source population-dependent responses to translocation). Functional analyses identified an over-representation of differentially expressed genes associated with metabolism and fluorescence categories (primarily downregulated), and environmental information processing (primarily upregulated) following translocation to a lower light and turbidity environment. Such metabolic downregulation may indicate nonoxidative stress, hibernation or caloric restriction associated with the changed environmental conditions. Green fluorescent protein-related genes were the most differentially expressed and were exclusively downregulated; however, green fluorescent protein levels remained unchanged following translocation. Photophysiological responses of corals from both locations were characterized by a decline when introduced to the common laboratory environment but remained healthy (Fv/Fm > 0.6). Declines in total lipid content following translocation were the greatest for inshore corals, suggesting that turbid water corals have a strong reliance on heterotrophic feeding.