Jessica Bellworthy, Malika Menoud, Thomas Krueger, Anders Meibom, and Maoz Fine
Coral reefs are degrading from the effects of anthropogenic activities including climate change. Under this stress, their ability to survive depends upon existing phenotypic plasticity, but also transgenerational adaptation. Parental effects are ubiquitous in nature, yet empirical studies of these effects in corals are scarce, particularly in the context of climate change. This study exposed mature colonies of the common reef building coral Stylophora pistillata from the Gulf of Aqaba to seawater conditions likely to occur just beyond the end of this century during the peak planulae brooding season (Representative Concentration Pathway 8.5: pH –0.4 and +5°C beyond present day). Parent and planulae physiology were assessed at multiple time-points during the experimental incubation. After five weeks incubation, parent colony's physiology exhibited limited treatment-induced changes. All significant time-dependent changes in physiology occurred in both ambient and treatment conditions. Planulae were also resistant to future ocean conditions with protein content, symbiont density, photochemistry, survival, and settlement success not significantly different compared to ambient conditions. High variability in offspring physiology was independent of parental or offspring treatments and indicate the use of bet-hedging strategy in this population. This study thus demonstrates weak climate change associated carry over effects. Furthermore, planulae display temperature and pH resistance similar to adult colonies and therefore do not represent a larger future population size bottleneck. The findings add support to the emerging hypothesis that the Gulf of Aqaba may serve as a climate change coral refugium aided by these corals’ inherent broad physiological resistance.