Can corals acclimate and adapt to a warming ocean?

Oregon State University
Corvallis, Oregon
Biology
DOI: 10.18258/7526
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  • $3,799
    pledged
  • 111%
    funded
  • 14
    days left

About This Project

As ocean warming continues to threaten coral reefs worldwide, it is uncertain whether they will survive. In these experiments, I focus on how corals are going to adapt, specifically investigating how thermal acclimation can be a potential mechanism for coral adaptation and evolution. Here, I will use a multi-species approach to pinpoint some "winners" and "losers" in climate change, important information that will help create management and conservation plans to protect these ecosystems.

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What is the context of this research?

Coral reefs are one of the most diverse and complex ecosystems in the world. In order to function, corals live in a symbiotic association with a marine algae, an important relationship where both partners benefit. However, when water temperatures become too warm, stressed corals will lose their algae and turn white, hence the term "coral bleaching". Rising temperatures are threatening coral reefs worldwide and bleaching events are increasing in frequency and severity. Despite these events, there is some hope! Thermal acclimation has been shown to enhance corals' short-term tolerance, allowing them to survive periods of warming. However, it is still unknown how corals acclimate, how different species are going to respond, and if this could lead to adaptation to the changing climate.

What is the significance of this project?

With the onset of climate change and the rapid increase of sea surface temperatures, corals are facing decline, with a third of reefs already lost. Therefore, understanding how and if corals can thermally acclimate is of vital importance to predicting their future response. This project will examine differences between corals at the molecular level by investigating acclimation of the coral host and their algal symbionts. By investigating these mechanisms of acclimation between species we can pinpoint specific genes that may explain the differences in response and begin to identify possible targets for adaptation in a dynamic environment. The results of my proposed research will compare responses across species and begin to find the "winners" and "losers" of climate change.

What are the goals of the project?

The goals of this project are to examine the variation and the limits and capacities of thermal acclimation responses in nine coral reef species. Here, I will test five different acclimation temperatures with >800 coral individuals. In each experiment, corals will be exposed to one of five acclimation temperatures (22 - 30C) before exposure to a stress treatment at a higher temperature (32C), quantifying the acclimation response. First, I will examine contributions of the coral host by using DNA and RNA-sequencing techniques to examine variation in protein-coding genes as well as measure gene expression of the coral. Additionally, I will examine the contributions of the algal symbiont by quantifying the type of algae within the coral as well as the overall density of the symbionts.

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In order to investigate the mechanisms of acclimation at the molecular level, I will need reference transcriptomes. Transcriptomes are a collection of expressed genes, and therefore can be informative for understanding how an organism is responding to a stimulus. For corals, this will tell me how a coral is responding to a stress.
RNA-sequencing is a genomic tool that examines the expression of genes within an individual at a particular time. In this study, I plan to investigate which genes are turned on or off during and after acclimation, helping pinpoint which genes play more of a mechanistic role in acclimation.
While RNA-sequencing examines the host response, symbiont sequencing will determine the type of symbiont or the community of symbionts living within the coral. Knowing this information will help us determine if living in association with a particular symbiont provides a more beneficial response of the coral.

Expenses will cover sequencing prep costs and lab supplies.

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We hear so much in the news these days about climate change, coral bleaching, and reef loss, it’s easy to lose hope. But we can’t forget that these ecosystems have been around for millennia, riding the highs and lows. Corals have many tricks to deal with temperature stress, including extraordinarily plastic molecular responses. Katie’s project will shed light on both rapid molecular acclimation as well as the long-term adaptive capacity of one of the most important symbioses on our planet; I can think of no one better equipped to pull it off.

Meet the Team

Katherine Dziedzic
Katherine Dziedzic
PhD Student

Affiliates

Oregon State University
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Team Bio

I am part of the Meyer Lab at Oregon State University!

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Katherine Dziedzic

Hi! My name is Katherine Dziedzic, but you can call me Katie! I am currently a fourth year PhD Student at Oregon State University in the Lab of Dr. Eli Meyer.

Ever since the age of ten, I knew I was passionate about the ocean. Annual family vacations to the Caribbean, routine visits to the aquarium and multiple internships at Chicago's Shedd Aquarium developed my enthusiasm and interests in pursuing marine science as a career. When it came time to applying for college, I looked toward the coast and attended the University of Miami in Florida. I double majored in marine science and biology and had a wonderful four years learning all about the ocean. I was a lab intern for three years in a coral reef ecology lab, where I helped perform experiments investigating various stressors on corals and learned various DNA techniques. This experience solidified my passion for studying coral reefs and my desire to continue on to graduate school. As a graduate student, I am continuing to focus on coral reefs and thermal tolerance and acclimation mechanisms. I am extremely interested in management and policy and how science can contribute to the solutions.

Check out my website to learn more about me and my research! katherinedziedzic.com

Feel free to start a discussion and ask me questions!

Additional Information

I have started the first 3/5 rounds of acclimation experiments!! Here is a picture of the experimental setup.


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  • 111%Funded
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