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No apparent trade-offs associated with heat tolerance in a reef-building coral

Lookup NU author(s): Liam Lachs, Dr Adriana Humanes Schumann, Professor John BythellORCiD, Elizabeth Beauchamp, Emeritus Professor Alasdair Edwards, Helios Martinez Da Almeida, Eveline van der Steeg, Dr James Guest



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


© 2023. The Author(s).As marine species adapt to climate change, their heat tolerance will likely be under strong selection. Yet trade-offs between heat tolerance and other life history traits could compromise natural adaptation or assisted evolution. This is particularly important for ecosystem engineers, such as reef-building corals, which support biodiversity yet are vulnerable to heatwave-induced mass bleaching and mortality. Here, we exposed 70 colonies of the reef-building coral Acropora digitifera to a long-term marine heatwave emulation experiment. We tested for trade-offs between heat tolerance and three traits measured from the colonies in situ - colony growth, fecundity, and symbiont community composition. Despite observing remarkable within-population variability in heat tolerance, all colonies were dominated by Cladocopium C40 symbionts. We found no evidence for trade-offs between heat tolerance and fecundity or growth. Contrary to expectations, positive associations emerged with growth, such that faster-growing colonies tended to bleach and die at higher levels of heat stress. Collectively, our results suggest that these corals exist on an energetic continuum where some high-performing individuals excel across multiple traits. Within populations, trade-offs between heat tolerance and growth or fecundity may not be major barriers to natural adaptation or the success of assisted evolution interventions.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Lachs L, Humanes A, Pygas DR, Bythell JC, Mumby PJ, Ferrari R, Figueira WF, Beauchamp E, East HK, Edwards AJ, Golbuu Y, Martinez HM, Sommer B, van der Steeg E, Guest JR

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Communications Biology

Year: 2023

Volume: 6

Issue: 1

Online publication date: 12/04/2023

Acceptance date: 24/03/2023

Date deposited: 04/05/2023

ISSN (electronic): 2399-3642

Publisher: Nature Publishing Group


DOI: 10.1038/s42003-023-04758-6

PubMed id: 37046074


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