Effect of short-term subaerial exposure on the cauliflower coral, Pocillopora damicornis, during a simulated extreme low-tide event

Abstract

There is increased interest in understanding how stress reduces coral resistance to disturbances and how acclimatization increases the ability of corals to resist future stress. Most extreme low tides at Gorgona Island, which expose reef flats to air, do not appear to negatively affect corals because corals usually do not undergo lethal bleaching during such events. However, coral physiology and fitness may be impacted by this phenomenon. The aim of this study was to evaluate whether corals exposed to air have modified biological functions to resist bleaching. To test this, an extreme low-tide event was simulated in the field. Colonies of Pocillopora damicornis were exposed to air for 15 or 40 min over the course of one, two, or three consecutive days. This procedure was repeated for one to three months. Colonies of P. damicornis exposed to air had reduced fecundity, decreased zooxanthellae density, and changed color from darker to lighter. However, the growth rate of exposed corals was similar to that of non-exposed colonies. We conclude that short periods of subaerial exposure during extreme low tides are not lethal to P. damicornis, but negatively affect sexual reproduction, which might have deleterious effects at the population level. The periodic occurrence of extreme low tides in the tropical eastern Pacific may be one factor responsible for the high rate of asexual reproduction (e.g., fragmentation) in pocilloporid corals of this region.

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Acknowledgements

This study was co-funded by a Jovenes Investigadores scholarship from the Colombian Department of Science, Technology and Innovation awarded to ALC and Grant No. 7935 from the Universidad del Valle awarded to FAZ. Special thanks to Emily Giles (Universidad Austral de Chile, Valdivia) for reviewing the English version of the manuscript and for her thoughtful suggestions. Thanks to editor in chief Howard Lasker, the topic editor and two anonymous reviewers for constructive criticism and comments that improved the paper. We thank members of the Coral Reef Ecology Research Group at Universidad del Valle for their help during the fieldwork, the Administrative Unit of National Natural Parks of Colombia for providing research permits, and the staff of the Henry von Prahl Scientific Station at Gorgona Island for logistic support.

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Fig. S1

(a) Average color of colonies due to subaerial exposure, and temporal changes from March 2013 to July 2013. Letters from a to z and & represent each group of three colonies that were randomly assigned to each combination of subaerial exposure treatment (0, 15 or 40 min; 1, 2 or 3 d; and 1, 2 or 3 months). 1st, 2nd, and 3rd AE denote the group of colonies that were repeatedly exposed to air. (b) Image of colonies showing change in color through time, b1 and b2 are an exposed colony in March and July, while b3 and b4 are a control colony in March and July (PNG 2502 kb)

Fig. S2

Effect of some interactions of subaerial exposition (AE) levels in zooxanthellae density of Pocillopora damicornis. Effect of (a) minutes, (b) days, (c) months of AE, and (d) the sampling date; (e) combined effect of minutes, days, and months of AE; combined effect of the sampling date with (f) minutes, (g) days, and (h) months of AE; combined effect of (i) days and minutes of AE, (j) months and minutes of AE, and (k) months and days of AE; (l) zooxanthellae density response after colonies were exposed to air (pink boxes) during 1, 2, or 3 months in combination of 1–3 d [1 d, 2 d, 3 d], during 0–40 min of AE. Green boxes are zooxanthellae density after 1 or 2 months of recuperation (rec, or no exposure to air).(PNG 917 kb)

Fig. S3

Relation between environmental variation (a) and temporal changes in zooxanthellae density (b) (PNG 315 kb)

Fig. S4

(a) Size of colonies in March, May, and July 2013. (b) Effect of subaerial exposure on growth rate of colonies; bars are mean ± standard error (PNG 372 kb)

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Castrillón-Cifuentes, A.L., Lozano-Cortés, D.F. & Zapata, F.A. Effect of short-term subaerial exposure on the cauliflower coral, Pocillopora damicornis, during a simulated extreme low-tide event. Coral Reefs 36, 401–414 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00338-017-1552-2

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Keywords

  • Growth rate
  • Low fecundity
  • Stress
  • Tissue damage
  • Trade-off
  • Zooxanthellae density