, Volume 23, Issue 4, pp 473-483
Date: 28 Jul 2004

Experimental responses to elevated water temperature in genotypes of the reef coral Pocillopora damicornis from upwelling and non-upwelling environments in Panama

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Abstract

The authors investigated the response to experimentally elevated water temperature in genotypes of Pocillopora damicornis from three coral reefs in the upwelling Gulf of Panama and four coral reefs in the non-upwelling Gulf of Chiriquí, Panamanian Pacific. Sea-surface temperature in the Gulf of Panama declines below 20 °C during seasonal upwelling, while in the thermally stable Gulf of Chiriquí, the temperature ranges from 27to 29 °C. Genotypes of P. damicornis from the seven locations were determined by allozyme electrophoresis. The most abundant genotype at each location was selected for a thermal tolerance experiment where corals were exposed to water temperature of 30 °C (1 °C above ambient) for 43 days. Four site coral genotypes can be uniquely differentiated by the GPI locus, two by the LGG-2 locus, and two by a combination of the MDH-1, LGG-2, and LTY-3 loci. A visual assessment of the coral condition after exposure to an elevated temperature showed that corals from localities in the non-upwelling environment retained a normal to slightly pale appearance, while corals from the upwelling environment bleached and their polyps were mostly retracted. A two-way ANOVA confirmed that corals were significantly affected by water temperature and locality. The zooxanthellae were also significantly affected by the interaction of elevated temperature and locality of the corals. Mean zooxanthellae density decreased by 25 and 55%, respectively, in experimentally heated corals from the non-upwelling and upwelling environments. Low concentrations of photosynthetic pigments per live area of the corals were the norm in corals under elevated temperature. The mean concentration of chlorophyll a per live area of the corals was reduced by 17 and 49%, respectively, in heated corals from the non-upwelling and upwelling sites. Coral genotypes from the upwelling Gulf of Panama demonstrated higher vulnerability to thermal stress than coral genotypes from the non-upwelling Gulf of Chiriquí. However, the latter showed greater differences in their responses. Thus, even at small geographic scales, corals can display different levels of tolerance to thermal stress. The difference in thermal tolerance between corals from upwelling and non-upwelling environments is concomitant with greater genetic differences in experimental corals from the thermally stable Gulf of Chiriquí compared with corals from the upwelling Gulf of Panama.

Communicated by K.S. Sealey