Limits to the thermal tolerance of corals adapted to a highly fluctuating, naturally extreme temperature environment
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Naturally extreme temperature environments can provide important insights into the processes underlying coral thermal tolerance. We determined the bleaching resistance of Acropora aspera and Dipsastraea sp. from both intertidal and subtidal environments of the naturally extreme Kimberley region in northwest Australia. Here tides of up to 10 m can cause aerial exposure of corals and temperatures as high as 37 °C that fluctuate daily by up to 7 °C. Control corals were maintained at ambient nearshore temperatures which varied diurnally by 4-5 °C, while treatment corals were exposed to similar diurnal variations and heat stress corresponding to ~20 degree heating days. All corals hosted Symbiodinium clade C independent of treatment or origin. Detailed physiological measurements showed that these corals were nevertheless highly sensitive to daily average temperatures exceeding their maximum monthly mean of ~31 °C by 1 °C for only a few days. Generally, Acropora was much more susceptible to bleaching than Dipsastraea and experienced up to 75% mortality, whereas all Dipsastraea survived. Furthermore, subtidal corals, which originated from a more thermally stable environment compared to intertidal corals, were more susceptible to bleaching. This demonstrates that while highly fluctuating temperatures enhance coral resilience to thermal stress, they do not provide immunity to extreme heat stress events.
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