Deoxygenation lowers the thermal threshold of coral bleaching
2022-10-31, Alderdice, Rachel, Perna, Gabriela, Cárdenas, Anny, Hume, Benjamin C. C., Wolf, Martin, Kühl, Michael, Pernice, Mathieu, Suggett, David J., Voolstra, Christian R.
Exposure to deoxygenation from climate warming and pollution is emerging as a contributing factor of coral bleaching and mortality. However, the combined effects of heating and deoxygenation on bleaching susceptibility remain unknown. Here, we employed short-term thermal stress assays to show that deoxygenated seawater can lower the thermal limit of an Acropora coral by as much as 1 °C or 0.4 °C based on bleaching index scores or dark-acclimated photosynthetic efficiencies, respectively. Using RNA-Seq, we show similar stress responses to heat with and without deoxygenated seawater, both activating putative key genes of the hypoxia-inducible factor response system indicative of cellular hypoxia. We also detect distinct deoxygenation responses, including a disruption of O2-dependent photo-reception/-protection, redox status, and activation of an immune response prior to the onset of bleaching. Thus, corals are even more vulnerable when faced with heat stress in deoxygenated waters. This highlights the need to integrate dissolved O2 measurements into global monitoring programs of coral reefs.