Pivotal to projecting the fate of coral reefs is the capacity of reef-building corals to acclimatize and adapt to climate change. Transgenerational plasticity may enable some marine organisms to acclimatize over several generations and it has been hypothesized that epigenetic processes and microbial associations might facilitate adaptive responses. However, current evidence is equivocal and understanding of the underlying processes is limited. Here, we discuss prospects for observing transgenerational plasticity in corals and the mechanisms that could enable adaptive plasticity in the coral holobiont, including the potential role of epigenetics and coral-associated microbes. Well-designed and strictly controlled experiments are needed to distinguish transgenerational plasticity from other forms of plasticity, and to elucidate the underlying mechanisms and their relative importance compared with genetic adaptation.
KAUST Repository Item: Exported on 2020-10-01
Acknowledgements: We dedicate this paper to our close friend and colleague, Dr. Sylvain Foret, a leader in coral genomics and invertebrate epigenetics who passed away unexpectedly days before this paper was submitted. The workshop where this paper was conceived was organized and funded by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies with additional support from the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) (M.A., M.L.B., T.R. and C.R.V.) and the KAUST Office of Competitive Research Funds award OCRF-2016-CRG4-25410101 (T.R. and M.L.B.). The authors would like to thank Xavier Pita for his help with Figs 1-3, Heno Hwang for his help with the figure in Box 1, and Hillary Smith for her help with Figs 2 and 3.