Comparative transcriptomics reveals altered species interaction between the bioeroding sponge Cliona varians and the coral Porites furcata under ocean acidification

Document Type


Publication Date



Bioeroding sponges interact and compete with corals on tropical reefs. Experimental studies have shown global change alters this biotic interaction, often in favour of the sponge. Ocean acidification in particular increases sponge bioerosion and reduces coral calcification, yet little is known about the molecular basis of these changes. We used RNA-Seq data to understand how acidification impacts the interaction between the bioeroding sponge, Cliona varians, and the coral, Porites furcata, at the transcriptomic level. Replicate sponge and coral genets were exposed to ambient (8.1 pH) and acidified (7.6 pH) conditions in isolation and in treatments where they were joined for 48 h. The coral had a small gene expression response (tens of transcripts) to the sponge, suggesting it does little at the transcriptomic level to deter sponge overgrowth. By contrast, the sponge differentially expressed 7320 transcripts in response to the coral under ambient conditions and 3707 transcripts in response to acidification. Overlap in the responses to acidification and the coral, 2500 transcripts expressed under both treatments, suggests a similar physiological response to both cues. The sponge expressed 50× fewer transcripts in response to the coral under acidification, suggesting energetic costs of bioerosion, and other cellular processes, are lower for sponges under acidification. Our results suggest how acidification drives ecosystem-level changes in the accretion/bioerosion balance on coral reefs. This shift is not only the result of changes to the thermodynamic balance of these chemical reactions but also the result of active physiological responses of organisms to each other and their abiotic environment.

Publication Source (Journal or Book title)

Molecular ecology

First Page


Last Page


This document is currently not available here.