School of BioSciences - Research Publications

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    Challenges of sperm cryopreservation in transferring heat adaptation of corals across ocean basins.
    Howells, EJ ; Hagedorn, M ; Van Oppen, MJH ; Burt, JA (PeerJ, 2022)
    Reef-building corals live very close to their upper thermal limits and their persistence is imperiled by a rapidly warming climate. Human interventions may be used to increase the thermal limits of sensitive corals by cross-breeding with heat-adapted populations. However, the scope of breeding interventions is constrained by regional variation in the annual reproductive cycle of corals. Here we use cryopreservation technology to overcome this barrier and cross-breed conspecific coral populations across ocean basins for the first time. During regional spawning events, sperm samples were cryopreserved from populations of the widespread Indo-Pacific coral, Platygyra daedalea, from the southern Persian Gulf (maximum daily sea surface temperature of 36 °C), the Oman Sea (33 °C), and the central Great Barrier Reef (30 °C). These sperm samples were thawed during a later spawning event to test their ability to fertilize freshly spawned eggs of P. daedalea colonies from the central Great Barrier Reef. Average fertilization success for the Persian Gulf (9%) and Oman Sea (6%) sperm were 1.4-2.5 times lower than those for the native cryopreserved sperm from Great Barrier Reef (13-15%), potentially due to lower sperm quality of the Middle Eastern sperm and/or reproductive incompatibility between these distant populations. Overall, fertilization success with cryopreserved sperm was low compared with fresh sperm (>80%), likely due to the low motility of thawed sperm (≤5%, reduced from 50% to >90% in fresh sperm). To evaluate whether cross-bred offspring had enhanced thermal tolerance, the survival of larvae sired by Persian Gulf cryopreserved sperm, Great Barrier Reef cryopreserved sperm, and Great Barrier Reef fresh sperm was monitored for six days at ambient (27 °C) and elevated (33 °C) temperature. Against expectations of thermal tolerance enhancement, survival of larvae sired by Persian Gulf cryopreserved sperm was 2.6 times lower than larvae sired by Great Barrier Reef fresh sperm at 33 °C (27% versus 71%), but did not differ at 27 °C (77% versus 84%). This lack of enhanced thermal tolerance was unlikely due to outbreeding depression as survival was equally poor in larvae sired by Great Barrier Reef cryopreserved sperm. Rather, follow-up tests showed that cryoprotectant exposure during fertilization (0.1% DMSO) has a negative effect on the survival of P. daedalea larvae which is exacerbated at elevated temperature. Collectively, our findings highlight challenges of breeding corals for enhanced thermal tolerance using cryopreserved sperm, which may be overcome by methodological advances in the collection and preservation of high-quality motile sperm and minimizing the exposure time of eggs to cryoprotectants.
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    Fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopy (FLIM): a non-traditional approach to study host-microbial symbioses
    Deore, P ; Wanigasuriya, I ; Tsang Min Ching, SJ ; Brumley, DR ; Van Oppen, MJH ; Blackall, LL ; Hinde, E (CSIRO Publishing, 2022-04-01)
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    Colonization and metabolite profiles of homologous, heterologous and experimentally evolved algal symbionts in the sea anemone Exaiptasia diaphana
    Tsang Min Ching, SJ ; Chan, WY ; Perez-Gonzalez, A ; Hillyer, KE ; Buerger, P ; van Oppen, MJH (Springer Science and Business Media LLC, 2022-12)
    Abstract The sea anemone, Exaiptasia diaphana, is a model of coral-dinoflagellate (Symbiodiniaceae) symbiosis. However, little is known of its potential to form symbiosis with Cladocopium—a key Indo-Pacific algal symbiont of scleractinian corals, nor the host nutritional consequences of such an association. Aposymbiotic anemones were inoculated with homologous algal symbionts, Breviolum minutum, and seven heterologous strains of Cladocopium C1acro (wild-type and heat-evolved) under ambient conditions. Despite lower initial algal cell density, Cladocopium C1acro-anemeones achieved similar cell densities as B. minutum-anemones by week 77. Wild-type and heat-evolved Cladocopium C1acro showed similar colonization patterns. Targeted LC-MS-based metabolomics revealed that almost all significantly different metabolites in the host and Symbiodiniaceae fractions were due to differences between Cladocopium C1acro and B. minutum, with little difference between heat-evolved and wild-type Cladocopium C1acro at week 9. The algal fraction of Cladocopium C1acro-anemones was enriched in metabolites related to nitrogen storage, while the host fraction of B. minutum-anemones was enriched in sugar-related metabolites. Compared to B. minutum, Cladocopium C1acro is likely slightly less nutritionally beneficial to the host under ambient conditions, but more capable of maintaining its own growth when host nitrogen supply is limited. Our findings demonstrate the value of E. diaphana to study experimentally evolved Cladocopium.
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    Long-Term Heat Selection of the Coral Endosymbiont Cladocopium C1(acro) (Symbiodiniaceae) Stabilizes Associated Bacterial Communities
    Buerger, P ; Vanstone, RT ; Maire, J ; van Oppen, MJH (MDPI, 2022-05-01)
    Heat-tolerant strains of the coral endosymbiont, Cladocopium C1acro (Symbiodiniaceae), have previously been developed via experimental evolution. Here, we examine physiological responses and bacterial community composition (using 16S rRNA gene metabarcoding) in cultures of 10 heat-evolved (SS) and 9 wild-type (WT) strains, which had been exposed for 6 years to 31 °C and 27 °C, respectively. We also examine whether the associated bacterial communities were affected by a three-week reciprocal transplantation to both temperatures. The SS strains had bacterial communities with lower diversities that showed more stability and lower variability when exposed to elevated temperatures compared with the WT strains. Amplicon sequence variants (ASVs) of the bacterial genera Labrenzia, Algiphilus, Hyphobacterium and Roseitalea were significantly more associated with the SS strains compared with the WT strains. WT strains showed higher abundance of ASVs assigned to the genera Fabibacter and Tropicimonas. We hypothesize that these compositional differences in associated bacterial communities between SS and WT strains also contribute to the thermal tolerance of the microalgae. Future research should explore functional potential between bacterial communities using metagenomics to unravel specific genomic adaptations.
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    Exploring microbiome engineering as a strategy for improved thermal tolerance in Exaiptasia diaphana
    Dungan, AM ; Hartman, LM ; Blackall, LL ; van Oppen, MJH (WILEY, 2022-02-19)
    AIMS: Fourteen percent of all living coral, equivalent to more than all the coral on the Great Barrier Reef, has died in the past decade as a result of climate change-driven bleaching. Inspired by the 'oxidative stress theory of coral bleaching', we investigated whether a bacterial consortium designed to scavenge free radicals could integrate into the host microbiome and improve thermal tolerance of the coral model, Exaiptasia diaphana. METHODS AND RESULTS: E. diaphana anemones were inoculated with a consortium of high free radical scavenging (FRS) bacteria, a consortium of congeneric low FRS bacteria, or sterile seawater as a control, then exposed to elevated temperature. Increases in the relative abundance of Labrenzia during the first 2 weeks following the last inoculation provided evidence for temporary inoculum integration into the E. diaphana microbiome. Initial uptake of other consortium members was inconsistent, and these bacteria did not persist either in E. diaphana's microbiome over time. Given their non-integration into the host microbiome, the ability of the FRS consortium to mitigate thermal stress could not be assessed. Importantly, there were no physiological impacts (negative or positive) of the bacterial inoculations on the holobiont. CONCLUSIONS: The introduced bacteria were not maintained in the anemone microbiome over time, thus, their protective effect is unknown. Achieving long-term integration of bacteria into cnidarian microbiomes remains a research priority. SIGNIFICANCE AND IMPACT OF THE STUDY: Microbiome engineering strategies to mitigate coral bleaching may assist coral reefs in their persistence until climate change has been curbed. This study provides insights that will inform microbiome manipulation approaches in coral bleaching mitigation research.
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    Temperature-mediated acquisition of rare heterologous symbionts promotes survival of coral larvae under ocean warming
    Matsuda, SB ; Chakravarti, LJ ; Cunning, R ; Huffmyer, AS ; Nelson, CE ; Gates, RD ; van Oppen, MJH (WILEY, 2022-01-05)
    Reef-building corals form nutritional symbioses with endosymbiotic dinoflagellates (Symbiodiniaceae), a relationship that facilitates the ecological success of coral reefs. These symbionts are mostly acquired anew each generation from the environment during early life stages ("horizontal transmission"). Symbiodiniaceae species exhibit trait variation that directly impacts the health and performance of the coral host under ocean warming. Here, we test the capacity for larvae of a horizontally transmitting coral, Acropora tenuis, to establish symbioses with Symbiodiniaceae species in four genera that have varying thermal thresholds (the common symbiont genera, Cladocopium and Durusdinium, and the less common Fugacium and Gerakladium). Over a 2-week period in January 2018, a series of both no-choice and four-way choice experiments were conducted at three temperatures (27, 30, and 31°C). Symbiont acquisition success and cell proliferation were measured in individual larvae. Larvae successfully acquired and maintained symbionts of all four genera in no-choice experiments, and >80% of larvae were infected with at least three genera when offered a four-way choice. Unexpectedly, Gerakladium symbionts increased in dominance over time, and at high temperatures outcompeted Durusdinium, which is regarded as thermally tolerant. Although Fugacium displayed the highest thermal tolerance in culture and reached similar cell densities to the other three symbionts at 31°C, it remained a background symbiont in choice experiments, suggesting host preference for other symbiont species. Larval survivorship at 1 week was highest in larvae associated with Gerakladium and Fugacium symbionts at 27 and 30°C, however at 31°C, mortality was similar for all treatments. We hypothesize that symbionts that are currently rare in corals (e.g., Gerakladium) may become more common and widespread in early life stages under climate warming. Uptake of such symbionts may function as a survival strategy in the wild, and has implications for reef restoration practices that use sexually produced coral stock.
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    Lack of evidence for the oxidative stress theory of bleaching in the sea anemone, Exaiptasia diaphana, under elevated temperature
    Dungan, AM ; Maire, J ; Perez-Gonzalez, A ; Blackall, LL ; van Oppen, MJH (Springer Science and Business Media LLC, 2022-08-01)
    Abstract To survive in nutrient-poor waters corals rely on a symbiotic association with intracellular microalgae. However, increased sea temperatures cause algal loss—known as coral bleaching—often followed by coral death. Some of the most compelling evidence in support of the ‘oxidative stress theory of coral bleaching’ comes from studies that exposed corals, cultures of their algal endosymbionts, or the coral model Exaiptasia diaphana to exogenous antioxidants during thermal stress. Here, we replicate these experiments using E.diaphana with the addition of the antioxidants ascorbate + catalase, catechin, or mannitol under ambient and elevated temperatures along with an antioxidant-free control. In the absence of exogenous antioxidants, E.diaphana exposed to elevated temperatures bleached with no change in reactive oxygen species (ROS) levels associated with their microalgal cells. Ascorbate + catalase and mannitol treatments rescued the anemones from bleaching, although microalgal ROS levels increased in these antioxidant treatments under elevated temperature conditions. While bleaching was not associated with changes in net ROS for the intracellular algal symbionts, it is evident from our findings that excess ROS is connected to the bleaching phenotype as exogenous antioxidants were successful in mitigating the effects of thermal stress in cnidarians. This understanding may assist applied research that aims to reduce the impact of climate change on coral reefs.
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    Predictive models for the selection of thermally tolerant corals based on offspring survival
    Quigley, KM ; van Oppen, MJH (NATURE PORTFOLIO, 2022-03-29)
    Finding coral reefs resilient to climate warming is challenging given the large spatial scale of reef ecosystems. Methods are needed to predict the location of corals with heritable tolerance to high temperatures. Here, we combine Great Barrier Reef-scale remote sensing with breeding experiments that estimate larval and juvenile coral survival under exposure to high temperatures. Using reproductive corals collected from the northern and central Great Barrier Reef, we develop forecasting models to locate reefs harbouring corals capable of producing offspring with increased heat tolerance of an additional 3.4° heating weeks (~3 °C). Our findings predict hundreds of reefs (~7.5%) may be home to corals that have high and heritable heat-tolerance in habitats with high daily and annual temperature ranges and historically variable heat stress. The locations identified represent targets for protection and consideration as a source of corals for use in restoration of degraded reefs given their potential to resist climate change impacts and repopulate reefs with tolerant offspring.
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    Antibiotics reduce bacterial load in Exaiptasia diaphana, but biofilms hinder its development as a gnotobiotic coral model.
    Hartman, LM ; Blackall, LL ; van Oppen, MJH (Microbiology Society, 2022)
    Coral reefs are declining due to anthropogenic disturbances, including climate change. Therefore, improving our understanding of coral ecosystems is vital, and the influence of bacteria on coral health has attracted particular interest. However, a gnotobiotic coral model that could enhance studies of coral-bacteria interactions is absent. To address this gap, we tested the ability of treatment with seven antibiotics for 3 weeks to deplete bacteria in Exaiptasia diaphana, a sea anemone widely used as a coral model. Digital droplet PCR (ddPCR) targeting anemone Ef1-α and bacterial 16S rRNA genes was used to quantify bacterial load, which was found to decrease six-fold. However, metabarcoding of bacterial 16S rRNA genes showed that alpha and beta diversity of the anemone-associated bacterial communities increased significantly. Therefore, gnotobiotic E. diaphana with simplified, uniform bacterial communities were not generated, with biofilm formation in the culture vessels most likely impeding efforts to eliminate bacteria. Despite this outcome, our work will inform future efforts to create a much needed gnotobiotic coral model.
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    Horizon scan of rapidly advancing coral restoration approaches for 21st century reef management
    Suggett, DJ ; van Oppen, MJH (PORTLAND PRESS LTD, 2022-02-04)
    Coral reef restoration activity is accelerating worldwide in efforts to offset the rate of reef health declines. Many advances have already been made in restoration practices centred on coral biology (coral restoration), and particularly those that look to employ the high adaptive state and capacity of corals in order to ensure that efforts rebuilding coral biomass also equip reefs with enhanced resilience to future stress. We horizon scan the state-of-play for the many coral restoration innovations already underway across the complex life cycle for corals that spans both asexual and sexual reproduction - assisted evolution (manipulations targeted to the coral host and host-associated microbes), biobanking, as well as scalable coral propagation and planting - and how these innovations are in different stages of maturity to support new 21st century reef management frameworks. Realising the potential for coral restoration tools as management aids undoubtedly rests on validating different approaches as their application continues to scale. Whilst the ecosystem service responses to increased scaling still largely remain to be seen, coral restoration has already delivered immense new understanding of coral and coral-associated microbial biology that has long lagged behind advances in other reef sciences.