Project description:The genetic composition of the resident Symbiodinium endosymbionts can strongly modulate the physiological performance of reef-building corals. Here, we used quantitative metabarcoding to investigate Symbiodinium genetic diversity in two species of mountainous star corals, Orbicella franksi and Orbicella faveolata, from two reefs separated by 19 km of deep water. We aimed to determine if the frequency of different symbiont genotypes varied with respect to coral host species or geographic location. Our results demonstrate that across the two reefs both coral species contained seven haplotypes of Symbiodinium, all identifiable as clade B and most closely related to type B1. Five of these haplotypes have not been previously described and may be endemic to the Flower Garden Banks. No significant differences in symbiont composition were detected between the two coral species. However, significant quantitative differences were detected between the east and west banks for three background haplotypes comprising 0.1%-10% of the total. The quantitative metabarcoding approach described here can help to sensitively characterize cryptic genetic diversity of Symbiodinium and potentially contribute to the understanding of physiological variations among coral populations.
Project description:Climate change-driven coral disease outbreaks have led to widespread declines in coral populations. Early work on coral genomics established that corals have a complex innate immune system, and whole-transcriptome gene expression studies have revealed mechanisms by which the coral immune system responds to stress and disease. The present investigation expands bioinformatic data available to study coral molecular physiology through the assembly and annotation of a reference transcriptome of the Caribbean reef-building coral, Orbicella faveolata. Samples were collected during a warm water thermal anomaly, coral bleaching event and Caribbean yellow band disease outbreak in 2010 in Puerto Rico. Multiplex sequencing of RNA on the Illumina GAIIx platform and de novo transcriptome assembly by Trinity produced 70,745,177 raw short-sequence reads and 32,463 O. faveolata transcripts, respectively. The reference transcriptome was annotated with gene ontologies, mapped to KEGG pathways, and a predicted proteome of 20,488 sequences was generated. Protein families and signaling pathways that are essential in the regulation of innate immunity across Phyla were investigated in-depth. Results were used to develop models of evolutionarily conserved Wnt, Notch, Rig-like receptor, Nod-like receptor, and Dicer signaling. O. faveolata is a coral species that has been studied widely under climate-driven stress and disease, and the present investigation provides new data on the genes that putatively regulate its immune system.
Project description:As coral reefs continue to decline worldwide, it becomes ever more necessary to understand the connectivity between coral populations to develop efficient management strategies facilitating survival and adaptation of coral reefs in the future. Orbicella faveolata is one of the most important reef-building corals in the Caribbean and has recently experienced severe population reductions. Here, we utilize a panel of nine microsatellite loci to evaluate the genetic structure of O. faveolata and to infer connectivity across ten sites spanning the wider Caribbean region. Populations are generally well-mixed throughout the basin (FST = 0.038), although notable patterns of substructure arise at local and regional scales. Eastern and western populations appear segregated with a genetic break around the Mona Passage in the north, as has been shown previously in other species; however, we find evidence for significant connectivity between Curaçao and Mexico, suggesting that the southern margin of this barrier is permeable to dispersal. Our results also identify a strong genetic break within the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System associated with complex oceanographic patterns that promote larval retention in southern Belize. Additionally, the diverse genetic signature at Flower Garden Banks suggests its possible function as a downstream genetic sink. The findings reported here are relevant to the ongoing conservation efforts for this important and threatened species, and contribute to the growing understanding of large-scale coral reef connectivity throughout the wider Caribbean.
Project description:Outbreaks of coral diseases continue to reduce global coral populations. In the Caribbean, yellow band is a severe and wide-spread disease that commonly affects corals of the Orbicella spp. complex, significantly impeding coral reproduction, and hindering the natural recovery of Orbicella spp. POPULATIONS:Caribbean yellow-band disease (CYBD) lesions may be severe, and often result in the complete loss of coral tissue. The slow spread of CYBD, however, provides an opportunity to test methods to mitigate the disease. Here we report the results of in situ experiments, conducted within Buck Island Reef National Monument in St. Croix, USVI, to test the effectiveness of three techniques to minimize disease impact on Orbicella faveolata: (1) shading, (2) aspirating, and (3) chiseling a "firebreak" to isolate the lesion. Neither shading nor aspirating the diseased tissue significantly reduced CYBD tissue loss. However, chiseling reduced the rate and amount of tissue lost by 31%. While 30-40% of the chiseled lesions appeared to be free of disease signs 12-16 months after treatment, success significantly and steadily declined over 23 months, indicating a possible lack of long-term viability of the technique. The results of this study demonstrate that creating a "firebreak" between diseased and healthy-appearing tissue slows the spread of the disease and may prolong the life of O. faveolata colonies. The firebreak method yielded the best results of all the techniques tested, and also required the least amount of effort and resources. However, we do not recommend that this treatment alone be used for long-term disease mitigation. Rather, we propose that modifications of this and other treatment options be sought. The results also highlight the need for extended monitoring of CYBD after any treatment, due to the slow but variable rate and pattern of tissue loss in this disease.
Project description:Black band is a deadly coral disease found worldwide, which may become more virulent as oceanic conditions continue to change. To determine the effects of climate change and ocean acidification on black band disease virulence, Orbicella faveolata corals with black band were exposed to different temperature and pH conditions. Results showed a significant decrease in disease progression under low pH (7.7) conditions. Low pH also altered the relative abundance of the bacterial community of the black band disease consortium. Here, there was a significant decrease in Roseofilum, the cyanobacterium that typically dominates the black band mat. These results indicate that as oceanic pH decreases so may the virulence of a worldwide coral disease.
Project description:The extraction of tissue-skeleton cores from coral colonies is a common procedure to study diverse aspects of their biology, water quality or to obtain environmental proxies. Coral species preferred for such studies in Caribbean reefs belong to the genera Orbicella. The long term effects of coring in the coral colony are seldom evaluated and in many Caribbean countries this practice is not regulated. We monitored 50 lesions produced on Orbicella faveolata colonies by the extraction of two centimeter-diameter cores to determine if they were able to heal after a four year period. At the end of the study 4% of the lesions underwent full regeneration, 52% underwent partial regeneration, 14% suffered additional tissue loss but remained surrounded by live tissue, and 30% merged with dead areas of the colonies. Given the low capacity of Orbicella faveolata to regenerate tissue-skeleton lesions, studies that use coring should be regulated and mitigation actions, such as using less destructive techniques and remediation measures after extraction, should be conducted to facilitate tissue regeneration.
Project description:Mass bleaching events are predicted to occur annually later this century. Nevertheless, it remains unknown whether corals will be able to recover between annual bleaching events. Using a combined tank and field experiment, we simulated annual bleaching by exposing three Caribbean coral species (Porites divaricata, Porites astreoides and Orbicella faveolata) to elevated temperatures for 2.5 weeks in 2 consecutive years. The impact of annual bleaching stress on chlorophyll a, energy reserves, calcification, and tissue C and N isotopes was assessed immediately after the second bleaching and after both short- and long-term recovery on the reef (1.5 and 11 months, respectively). While P. divaricata and O. faveolata were able to recover from repeat bleaching within 1 year, P. astreoides experienced cumulative damage that prevented full recovery within this time frame, suggesting that repeat bleaching had diminished its recovery capacity. Specifically, P. astreoides was not able to recover protein and carbohydrate concentrations. As energy reserves promote bleaching resistance, failure to recover from annual bleaching within 1 year will likely result in the future demise of heat-sensitive coral species.
Project description:Coral reefs are experiencing precipitous declines around the globe with coral diseases and temperature-induced bleaching being primary drivers of these declines. Regulation of apoptotic cell death is an important component in the coral stress response. Although cnidaria are known to contain complex apoptotic signaling pathways, similar to those in vertebrates, the mechanisms leading to cell death are largely unexplored. We identified and characterized two caspases each from Orbicella faveolata, a disease-sensitive reef-building coral, and Porites astreoides, a disease-resistant reef-building coral. The caspases are predicted homologs of the human executioner caspases-3 and -7, but OfCasp3a (Orbicella faveolata caspase-3a) and PaCasp7a (Porites astreoides caspase-7a), which we show to be DXXDases, contain an N-terminal caspase activation/recruitment domain (CARD) similar to human initiator/inflammatory caspases. OfCasp3b (Orbicella faveolata caspase-3b) and PaCasp3 (Porites astreoides caspase-3), which we show to be VXXDases, have short pro-domains, like human executioner caspases. Our biochemical analyses suggest a mechanism in coral which differs from that of humans, where the CARD-containing DXXDase is activated on death platforms but the protease does not directly activate the VXXDase. The first X-ray crystal structure of a coral caspase, of PaCasp7a determined at 1.57 Å resolution, reveals a conserved fold and an N-terminal peptide bound near the active site that may serve as a regulatory exosite. The binding pocket has been observed in initiator caspases of other species. These results suggest mechanisms for the evolution of substrate selection while maintaining common activation mechanisms of CARD-mediated dimerization.