Genomic determinants of coral heat tolerance across latitudes

See allHide authors and affiliations

Science  26 Jun 2015:
Vol. 348, Issue 6242, pp. 1460-1462
DOI: 10.1126/science.1261224

Some like it hot

Coral reefs are threatened by increasing temperatures. Acute temperature increases stress and damage corals. However, more gradual temperature changes can result in adaptation and subsequent tolerance for higher temperatures. Dixon et al. show that the heat tolerance that currently exists across coral populations from different latitudes can be inherited. Thus, natural variation in temperature tolerance may facilitate rapid adaptation among corals as our climate warms.

Science, this issue p. 1460


As global warming continues, reef-building corals could avoid local population declines through “genetic rescue” involving exchange of heat-tolerant genotypes across latitudes, but only if latitudinal variation in thermal tolerance is heritable. Here, we show an up–to–10-fold increase in odds of survival of coral larvae under heat stress when their parents come from a warmer lower-latitude location. Elevated thermal tolerance was associated with heritable differences in expression of oxidative, extracellular, transport, and mitochondrial functions that indicated a lack of prior stress. Moreover, two genomic regions strongly responded to selection for thermal tolerance in interlatitudinal crosses. These results demonstrate that variation in coral thermal tolerance across latitudes has a strong genetic basis and could serve as raw material for natural selection.

View Full Text

Stay Connected to Science