Color morphs of the coral, Acropora tenuis, show different responses to environmental stress and different expression profiles of fluorescent-protein genes

G3 (Bethesda). 2021 Feb 9;11(2):jkab018. doi: 10.1093/g3journal/jkab018.


Corals of the family Acroporidae are key structural components of reefs that support the most diverse marine ecosystems. Due to increasing anthropogenic stresses, coral reefs are in decline. Along the coast of Okinawa, Japan, three different color morphs of Acropora tenuis have been recognized for decades. These include brown (N morph), yellow green (G), and purple (P) forms. The tips of axial polyps of each morph exhibit specific fluorescence spectra. This attribute is inherited asexually, and color morphs do not change seasonally. In Okinawa Prefecture, during the summer of 2017, N and P morphs experienced bleaching, in which many N morphs died. Dinoflagellates (Symbiodiniaceae) are essential partners of scleractinian corals, and photosynthetic activity of symbionts was reduced in N and P morphs. In contrast, G morphs successfully withstood the stress. Examination of the clade and type of Symbiodiniaceae indicated that the three color-morphs host similar sets of Clade-C symbionts, suggesting that beaching of N and P morphs is unlikely attributable to differences in the clade of Symbiodiniaceae the color morphs hosted. Fluorescent proteins play pivotal roles in physiological regulation of corals. Since the A. tenuis genome has been decoded, we identified five genes for green fluorescent proteins (GFPs), two for cyan fluorescent proteins (CFPs), three for red fluorescent proteins (RFPs), and seven genes for chromoprotein (ChrP). A summer survey of gene expression profiles under outdoor aquarium conditions demonstrated that (a) expression of CFP and REP was quite low during the summer in all three morphs, (b) P morphs expressed higher levels of ChrP than N and G morphs, (c) both N and G morphs expressed GFP more highly than P morphs, and (d) GFP expression in N morphs was reduced during summer whereas G morphs maintained high levels of GFP expression throughout the summer. Although further studies are required to understand the biological significance of these color morphs of A. tenuis, our results suggest that thermal stress resistance is modified by genetic mechanisms that coincidentally lead to diversification of color morphs of this coral.

Keywords: Acropora tenuis; Okinawa coast; color morphs; coral symbionts; fluorescent protein gene expression; thermal stress response.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anthozoa*
  • Coral Reefs
  • Dinoflagellida*
  • Ecosystem
  • Stress, Physiological
  • Symbiosis

Associated data

  • figshare/10.25387/g3.13557797