The role and risks of selective adaptation in extreme coral habitats

July 28, 2023

Federica Scucchia (1), Paul Zaslansky (2), Chloe Boote (3), Annabella Doheny (3), Tali Mass (1), Emma F. Camp (3)
Nature Communications. (28 July 2023). DOI:


Biodiversity, conservation biology, marine biology


The alarming rate of climate change demands new management strategies to protect coral reefs. Environments such as mangrove lagoons, characterized by extreme variations in multiple abiotic factors, are viewed as potential sources of stress-tolerant corals for strategies such as assisted evolution and coral propagation. However, biological trade-offs for adaptation to such extremes are poorly known. Here, we investigate the reef-building coral Porites lutea thriving in both mangrove and reef sites and show that stress-tolerance comes with compromises in genetic and energetic mechanisms and skeletal characteristics. We observe reduced genetic diversity and gene expression variability in mangrove corals, a disadvantage under future harsher selective pressure. We find reduced density, thickness and higher porosity in coral skeletons from mangroves, symptoms of metabolic energy redirection to stress response functions. These findings demonstrate the need for caution when utilizing stress-tolerant corals in human interventions, as current survival in extremes may compromise future competitive fitness.

How Our Software Was Used

Datasets were visualized and processed in 3D using Dragonfly, including volumetric thickness of the skeleton walls of digitally isolated single coral polyps.

Author Affiliation

(1) Department of Marine Biology, Leon H, Charney school of Marine Sciences, University of Haifa, Haifa, Israel
(2) Department for Operative, Preventive and Pediatric Dentistry, Charité-Universitätsmedizin, Berlin, Germany
(3) Climate Change Cluster, University of Technology Sydney, Ultimo, NSW, Australia