Get access

Variation in the transcriptional response of threatened coral larvae to elevated temperatures


Correspondence: Iliana Baums, Fax: 814 865 9131 E-mail:


Coral populations have declined worldwide largely due to increased sea surface temperatures. Recovery of coral populations depends in part upon larval recruitment. Many corals reproduce during the warmest time of year when further increases in temperature can lead to low fertilization rates of eggs and high larval mortality. Microarray experiments were designed to capture and assess variability in the thermal stress responses of Acropora palmata larvae from Puerto Rico. Transcription profiles showed a striking acceleration of normal developmental gene expression patterns with increased temperature. The transcriptional response to heat suggested rapid depletion of larval energy stores via peroxisomal lipid oxidation and included key enzymes that indicated the activation of the glyoxylate cycle. High temperature also resulted in expression differences in key developmental signalling genes including the conserved WNT pathway that is critical for pattern formation and tissue differentiation in developing embryos. Expression of these and other important developmental and thermal stress genes such as ferritin, heat shock proteins, cytoskeletal components, cell adhesion and autophagy proteins also varied among larvae derived from different parent colonies. Disruption of normal developmental and metabolic processes will have negative impacts on larval survival and dispersal as temperatures rise. However, it appears that variation in larval response to high temperature remains despite the dramatic population declines. Further research is needed to determine whether this variation is heritable or attributable to maternal effects.