Abstract: Coral reefs are threatened by local and global stressors, and critical to managing corals for persistence is understanding the components of how coral populations resist and recover from stress events. To facilitate the management of corals, we need more insight into the genetic variation inherent in coral populations, and with modern genomic techniques we have an unprecedented opportunity to dig into the genetic underpinnings of observable phenotypic variation. In Hawai‘i, during the summers of 2014 and 2015 there was greater than 60% coral bleaching, yet some individuals within Montipora capitata and Porites compressa showed thermal tolerance. I collected tissue samples of paired coral colonies (half of which resisted bleaching) located directly adjacent to each other over a three year time period that encompassed two consecutive bleaching events and the recovery after both bleaching events. I used Amplicon Sequencing (16S), RADseq, and RNAseq on these coral pairs to better establish the genetic underpinnings responsible for this phenotypic variation in response to thermal stress. Research integrating genomic techniques on the same coral individuals allowed us to pull out the genetic components of resilience by removing the variance of environmental factors. Understanding the genetic components of coral resilience is critical if we are going to better understand the heritability of thermal tolerance across different lineages of the corals that build reefs.
Biography: Raphael Ritson-Williams is a research associate at the California Academy of Sciences and is also working as an adjunct professor at Santa Clara University. He uses a variety of tools from molecular genetics to ecological monitoring to better understand coral reef diversity, and the trajectory of their change. Raphael has studied coral genomics in Hawaii to understand individual scale resistance to bleaching and works on coral larval ecology to better understand the process of reef recovery. Raphael also works on the ecology and systematics of crustose coralline algae as these critical reef inhabitants remain poorly understood. Raphael’s goal is to build the foundational science necessary to increase the health and diversity of coral reefs.