Enhancing the heat tolerance of reef-building corals to future warming

Emily J. Howells, David Abrego, Yi Jin Liew, John A. Burt, Eli Meyer, Manuel Aranda

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations

Abstract

Reef-building corals thriving in extreme thermal environments may provide genetic variation that can assist the evolution of populations to rapid climate warming. However, the feasibility and scale of genetic improvements remain untested despite ongoing population declines from recurrent thermal stress events. Here, we show that corals from the hottest reefs in the world transfer sufficient heat tolerance to a naïve population sufficient to withstand end-of-century warming projections. Heat survival increased up to 84% when naïve mothers were selectively bred with fathers from the hottest reefs because of strong heritable genetic effects. We identified genomic loci associated with tolerance variation that were enriched for heat shock proteins, oxidative stress, and immune functions. Unexpectedly, several coral families exhibited survival rates and genomic associations deviating from origin predictions, including a few naïve purebreds with exceptionally high heat tolerance. Our findings highlight previously uncharacterized enhanced and intrinsic potential of coral populations to adapt to climate warming.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)eabg6070
JournalScience advances
Volume7
Issue number34
DOIs
StatePublished - Aug 20 2021

Bibliographical note

KAUST Repository Item: Exported on 2021-08-24
Acknowledgements: We thank G. Vaughan, D. McParland, and A. Mihala for assistance with experimental setup and J. Rowe for assistance with bioinformatics. Permits for coral collection were provided by the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi and the Fujairah and Dibba municipalities. Research was supported by the High Performance Computing Center and Marine Biology Core Technology Platform at New York University Abu Dhabi. Funding: This project was funded under Tamkeen grant CG007 to J.A.B. and a National Geographic Society grant awarded to E.J.H

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