Species-specific molecular responses of wild coral reef fishes during a marine heatwave

The marine heatwave of 2016 was one of the longest and hottest thermal anomalies recorded on the Great Barrier Reef, influencing multiple species of marine ectotherms, including coral reef fishes. There is a gap in our understanding of what the physiological consequences of heatwaves in wild fish populations are. Thus, in this study, we used liver transcriptomes to understand the molecular response of five species to the 2016 heatwave conditions. Gene expression was species specific, yet we detected overlap in functional responses associated with thermal stress previously reported in experimental setups. The molecular response was also influenced by the duration of exposure to elevated temperatures. This study highlights the importance of considering the effects of extreme warming events when evaluating the consequences of climate change on fish communities.

Bernal, M. A., Schunter, C., Lehmann, R., Lightfoot, D. J., Allan, B. J. M., Veilleux, H. D., … Ravasi, T. (2020). Species-specific molecular responses of wild coral reef fishes during a marine heatwave. Science Advances, 6(12), eaay3423. doi:10.1126/sciadv.aay3423

We thank J. Johansen, T. Nay, and M. McCormick for help with the sampling, as well as the Lizard Island Research Station for logistical support. We also thank A. Budd for help in the molecular laboratory as well as the Integrative Systems Biology Laboratory (KAUST). Figures 1 and 2 were created by H. Hwang, scientific illustrator at the KAUST.
This study was supported by the Office of Competitive Research Funds OSR-2015-CRG4-2541 from the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) (to T.R., P.L.M., C.S., and J.L.R.), the Australian Research Council (ARC), and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (to P.L.M. and J.L.R.)

American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)

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