Brooded coral offspring physiology depends on the combined effects of parental press and pulse thermal history

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Reef-building corals respond to the temporal integration of both pulse events (i.e., heat waves) and press thermal history (i.e., local environment) via physiological changes, with ecological consequences. We used a “press-pulse-press” experimental framework to expose the brooding coral Porites astreoides to various thermal histories to understand the physiological response of temporal dynamics within and across generations. We collected adult colonies from two reefs (outer Rim reef and inner Patch reef) in Bermuda with naturally contrasting thermal regimes as our initial “press” scenario, followed by a 21-day ex situ “pulse” thermal stress of 30.4°C during larval brooding, and a “press” year-long adult reciprocal transplant between the original sites. Higher endosymbiont density and holobiont protein was found in corals originating from the lower thermal variability site (Rim) compared to the higher thermal variability site (Patch). The thermal pulse event drove significant declines in photosynthesis, endosymbiont density, and chlorophyll a, with bleaching phenotype convergence for adults from both histories. Following the reciprocal transplant, photosynthesis was higher in previously heated corals, indicating recovery from the thermal pulse. The effect of origin (initial press) modulated the response to transplant site for endosymbiont density and chlorophyll a, suggesting contrasting acclimation strategies. Higher respiration and photosynthetic rates were found in corals originating from the Rim site, indicating greater energy available for reproduction, supported by larger larvae released from Rim corals post-transplantation. Notably, parental exposure to the pulse thermal event resulted in increased offspring plasticity when parents were transplanted to foreign sites, highlighting the legacy of the pulse event and the importance of the environment during recovery in contributing to cross-generational or developmental plasticity. Together, these findings provide novel insight into the role of historical disturbance events in driving differential outcomes within and across generations, which is of critical importance in forecasting reef futures.

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Global Change Biology