Physiological factors facilitating the persistence of Pocillopora aliciae and Plesiastrea versipora in temperate reefs of south-eastern Australia under ocean warming

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Coral Reefs, 2022
Issue Date:
Full metadata record
High-latitude reefs are suboptimal coral habitats, but such habitats are increasingly considered to be potential refugia from climate change for range-shifting coral reef species. Notably, tropical reef fish have been observed along the south-east coast of Australia, but their establishment on temperate rocky reefs is currently limited by winter minimum temperatures and other resource needs, such as structurally complex habitats typical of tropical reefs. Recent expansion of the branching subtropical coral Pocillopora aliciae in rocky reefs near Sydney (34° S) could diversify the architectural structure of temperate marine environments, thereby providing potential shelter for tropical reef taxa in warming seas. Here, we investigated whether future environmental conditions (i.e. temperature increase) can influence the dominance of the subtropical branching coral P. aliciae over the resident encrusting coral Plesiastrea versipora in coastal Sydney by characterising physiological (e.g. metabolic stability) and behavioural (e.g. interspecific competitive hierarchy) traits that contribute to their competitive fitness. Our results suggest that a metabolic response, mediated by sterol and lipid metabolic pathways and provision of antioxidants, allows P. aliciae to reduce cellular stress and withstand exposure to short-term increased temperature. Conversely, P. versipora was more susceptible to heat exposure with no metabolic mediation observed. While P. versipora displayed greater aggressive behaviour when in direct contact with P. aliciae under all temperature conditions, the superior physiological and metabolic flexibility under increased temperatures of P. aliciae suggests that this species will likely outperform P. versipora under future increased temperatures. Such contrasting responses to environmental change would facilitate shifts in coral community and functional composition that could support further tropicalisation of coastal New South Wales.
Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item: