Toggle Main Menu Toggle Search

Open Access padlockePrints

An Experimental Framework for Selectively Breeding Corals for Assisted Evolution

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Adriana Humanes Schumann, Elizabeth Beauchamp, Professor John BythellORCiD, Emeritus Professor Alasdair Edwards, Liam Lachs, Dr Pawel PalmowskiORCiD, Dr James Guest



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


Coral cover on tropical reefs has declined during the last three decades due tothe combined effects of climate change, destructive fishing, pollution, and land usechange. Drastic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions combined with effectivecoastal management and conservation strategies are essential to slow this decline.Innovative approaches, such as selective breeding for adaptive traits combined withlarge-scale sexual propagation, are being developed with the aim of pre-adapting reefsto increased ocean warming. However, there are still major gaps in our understandingof the technical and methodological constraints to producing corals for such restorationinterventions. Here we propose a framework for selectively breeding corals and rearingthem from eggs to 2.5-year old colonies using the coral Acropora digitifera as a modelspecies. We present methods for choosing colonies for selective crossing, enhancingearly survivorship in ex situ and in situ nurseries, and outplanting and monitoringcolonies on natal reefs. We used a short-term (7-day) temperature stress assay toselect parental colonies based on heat tolerance of excised branches. From six parentalcolonies, we produced 12 distinct crosses, and compared survivorship and growth ofcolonies transferred to in situ nurseries or outplanted to the reef at different ages. Wedemonstrate that selectively breeding and rearing coral colonies is technically feasible atsmall scales and could be upscaled as part of restorative assisted evolution initiatives.Nonetheless, there are still challenges to overcome before selective breeding canbe implemented as a viable conservation tool, especially at the post-settlement andoutplanting phases. Although interdisciplinary approaches will be needed to overcomemany of the challenges identified in this study, selective breeding has the potential to bea viable tool within a reef managers toolbox to support the persistence of selected reefsin the face of climate change.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Humanes A, Beauchamp EA, Bythell JC, Carl MK, Craggs JR, Edwards AJ, Golbuu Y, Lachs L, Martinez HM, Palmowski P, Paysinger F, Randle JL, van der Steeg E, Sweet M, Treumann A, Guest JR

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Frontiers in Marine Science

Year: 2021

Volume: 8

Online publication date: 28/05/2021

Acceptance date: 03/05/2021

Date deposited: 15/06/2021

ISSN (electronic): 2296-7745

Publisher: Frontiers


DOI: 10.3389/fmars.2021.669995


Altmetrics provided by Altmetric


Funder referenceFunder name
725848Commission of the European Communities
NE/S007512/1Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)