Marine Biology

, 165:56 | Cite as

The effects of environmental history and thermal stress on coral physiology and immunity

  • Christopher B. WallEmail author
  • Contessa A. Ricci
  • Grace E. Foulds
  • Laura D. Mydlarz
  • Ruth D. Gates
  • Hollie M. Putnam
Original paper


Rising ocean temperatures can induce the breakdown of the symbiosis between reef building corals and Symbiodinium in the phenomenon known as coral bleaching. Environmental history may, however, influence the response of corals to stress and affect bleaching outcomes. A suite of physiological and immunological traits was evaluated to test the effect of environmental history (low vs. high variable pCO2) on the response of the reef coral Montipora capitata to elevated temperature (24.5 °C vs. thermal ramping to 30.5 °C). Heating reduced maximum photochemical efficiency (Fv/Fm) and chlorophyll a but increased tissue melanin in corals relative to the ambient treatment, indicating a role of the melanin synthesis pathway in the early stages of thermal stress. However, interactions of environmental history and temperature treatment were not observed. Rather, parallel reaction norms were the primary response pattern documented across the two temperature treatments with respect to reef environmental history. Corals with a history of greater pCO2 variability had higher constitutive antioxidative and immune activity (i.e., catalase, superoxide dismutase, prophenoloxidase) and Fv/Fm, but lower melanin and chlorophyll a, relative to corals with a history of lower pCO2 variability. This suggests that reef environments with high magnitude pCO2 variability promote greater antioxidant and immune activity in resident corals. These results demonstrate coral physiology and immunity reflect environmental attributes that vary over short distances, and that these differences may buffer the magnitude of thermal stress effects on coral phenotypes.



We thank Dr. Eric H. De Carlo and colleagues with NOAA PMEL and CRIMP CO2 program for Kāne‘ohe Bay pCO2 data, and two reviewers for suggestions that improved the manuscript. Biological collections were performed in accordance with the state of Hawai‘i Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Aquatic Resources permitting guidelines. CBW was supported by an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) STAR Fellowship Assistance Agreement (FP-91779401-1). The views expressed in this publication have not been reviewed or endorsed by the EPA and are solely those of the authors. HMP was supported by NSF OCE-PRF 1323822. LDM was supported by NSF 1017458, and CAR was supported by LSAMP Bridge to Doctorate program. This is HIMB contribution number 1722, SOEST contribution number 10328.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All applicable international, national, and/or institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, Hawai‘i Institute of Marine BiologyKaneoheUSA
  2. 2.Department of BiologyUniversity of Texas at ArlingtonArlingtonUSA
  3. 3.Department of Biological SciencesUniversity of Rhode IslandKingstonUSA

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