Threatened Caribbean coral is able to mitigate the adverse effects of ocean acidification on calcification by increasing feeding rate

PLoS One. 2015 Apr 15;10(4):e0123394. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0123394. eCollection 2015.


Global climate change threatens coral growth and reef ecosystem health via ocean warming and ocean acidification (OA). Whereas the negative impacts of these stressors are increasingly well-documented, studies identifying pathways to resilience are still poorly understood. Heterotrophy has been shown to help corals experiencing decreases in growth due to either thermal or OA stress; however, the mechanism by which it mitigates these decreases remains unclear. This study tested the ability of coral heterotrophy to mitigate reductions in growth due to climate change stress in the critically endangered Caribbean coral Acropora cervicornis via changes in feeding rate and lipid content. Corals were either fed or unfed and exposed to elevated temperature (30°C), enriched pCO2 (800 ppm), or both (30°C/800 ppm) as compared to a control (26°C/390 ppm) for 8 weeks. Feeding rate and lipid content both increased in corals experiencing OA vs. present-day conditions, and were significantly correlated. Fed corals were able to maintain ambient growth rates at both elevated temperature and elevated CO2, while unfed corals experienced significant decreases in growth with respect to fed conspecifics. Our results show for the first time that a threatened coral species can buffer OA-reduced calcification by increasing feeding rates and lipid content.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Animals
  • Anthozoa / drug effects*
  • Anthozoa / growth & development
  • Anthozoa / metabolism
  • Calcification, Physiologic / drug effects*
  • Carbon Dioxide / chemistry
  • Carbon Dioxide / metabolism
  • Carbonic Acid / pharmacology*
  • Caribbean Region
  • Climate Change
  • Coral Reefs
  • Eating / physiology*
  • Endangered Species
  • Heterotrophic Processes / physiology*
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Lipids / biosynthesis
  • Oceans and Seas
  • Temperature


  • Lipids
  • Carbon Dioxide
  • Carbonic Acid

Grant support

This study was supported by MOTE Marine Laboratories "Protect Our Reefs" Grant (#POR-2012-22) to EKT ( and by the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund (#12054710) to EKT ( The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.