Major Cellular and Physiological Impacts of Ocean Acidification on a Reef Building Coral

PLoS One. 2012;7(4):e34659. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0034659. Epub 2012 Apr 11.


As atmospheric levels of CO(2) increase, reef-building corals are under greater stress from both increased sea surface temperatures and declining sea water pH. To date, most studies have focused on either coral bleaching due to warming oceans or declining calcification due to decreasing oceanic carbonate ion concentrations. Here, through the use of physiology measurements and cDNA microarrays, we show that changes in pH and ocean chemistry consistent with two scenarios put forward by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) drive major changes in gene expression, respiration, photosynthesis and symbiosis of the coral, Acropora millepora, before affects on biomineralisation are apparent at the phenotype level. Under high CO(2) conditions corals at the phenotype level lost over half their Symbiodinium populations, and had a decrease in both photosynthesis and respiration. Changes in gene expression were consistent with metabolic suppression, an increase in oxidative stress, apoptosis and symbiont loss. Other expression patterns demonstrate upregulation of membrane transporters, as well as the regulation of genes involved in membrane cytoskeletal interactions and cytoskeletal remodeling. These widespread changes in gene expression emphasize the need to expand future studies of ocean acidification to include a wider spectrum of cellular processes, many of which may occur before impacts on calcification.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anthozoa / genetics*
  • Anthozoa / growth & development
  • Anthozoa / physiology*
  • Calcification, Physiologic
  • Carbon Dioxide / chemistry*
  • Climate Change
  • Coral Reefs
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Oceans and Seas
  • Oligonucleotide Array Sequence Analysis
  • Photosynthesis
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism
  • Symbiosis


  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Carbon Dioxide