Extensive transcriptional variation poses a challenge to thermal stress biomarker development for endangered corals

John Everett Parkinson, Erich Bartels, Meghann K. Devlin-Durante, Caitlin Lustic, Ken Nedimyer, Stephanie Schopmeyer, Diego Lirman, Todd C. LaJeunesse, Iliana B. Baums

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


As climate changes, sea surface temperature anomalies that negatively impact coral reef organisms continue to increase in frequency and intensity. Yet, despite widespread coral mortality, genetic diversity remains high even in those coral species listed as threatened. While this is good news in many ways, it presents a challenge for the development of biomarkers that can identify resilient or vulnerable genotypes. Taking advantage of three coral restoration nurseries in Florida that serve as long-term common garden experiments, we exposed over 30 genetically distinct Acropora cervicornis colonies to hot and cold temperature shocks seasonally and measured pooled gene expression responses using RNAseq. Targeting a subset of 20 genes, we designed a high-throughput qPCR array to quantify expression in all individuals separately under each treatment with the goal of identifying predictive and/or diagnostic thermal stress biomarkers. We observed extensive transcriptional variation in the population, suggesting abundant raw material is available for adaptation via natural selection. However, this high variation made it difficult to correlate gene expression changes with colony performance metrics such as growth, mortality and bleaching susceptibility. Nevertheless, we identified several promising diagnostic biomarkers for acute thermal stress that may improve coral restoration and climate change mitigation efforts in the future.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1103-1119
Number of pages17
JournalMolecular ecology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Mar 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics


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