High pCO2 habitats and their populations provide an unparalleled opportunity to assess how species may survive under future ocean acidification conditions, and help to reveal the traits that confer tolerance. Here we utilize a unique CO2 vent system to study the effects of exposure to elevated pCO2 on trait-shifts observed throughout natural populations of Astroides calycularis, an azooxanthellate scleractinian coral endemic to the Mediterranean. Unexpected shifts in skeletal and growth patterns were found. Colonies shifted to a skeletal phenotype characterized by encrusting morphology, smaller size, reduced coenosarc tissue, fewer polyps, and less porous and denser skeletons at low pH. Interestingly, while individual polyps calcified more and extended faster at low pH, whole colonies found at low pH site calcified and extended their skeleton at the same rate as did those at ambient pH sites. Transcriptomic data revealed strong genetic differentiation among local populations of this warm water species whose distribution range is currently expanding northward. We found excess differentiation in the CO2 vent population for genes central to calcification, including genes for calcium management (calmodulin, calcium-binding proteins), pH regulation (V-type proton ATPase), and inorganic carbon regulation (carbonic anhydrase). Combined, our results demonstrate how coral populations can persist in high pCO2 environments, making this system a powerful candidate for investigating acclimatization and local adaptation of organisms to global environmental change.
Keywords: acclimatization/adaptation mechanisms; calcification; corals; environmental variability; natural CO2 vents; ocean acidification.
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