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The greatest threat scleractinian corals face today is accelerated climate change. Assuming that most scleractinians are incapable of genetic adaptation to rapid global changes, the alternative response would be phenotypic plasticity, which is classically described as acclimatization. With the purpose of establishing a baseline for the study of acclimatization in corals of the Pacific coast of Mexico, we assessed the molecular and physiological response of 36 colonies of 3 Pocillopora morphospecies (Pocillopora cf. capitata, Pocillopora cf. damicornis, and Pocillopora cf. verrucosa) located at 2 sites (east and west) on Carrizales Reef. Our results show higher incidence of light and chlorophyll concentrations in seawater samples from the west side, suggesting the presence of at least 2 microenvironments with more and less light in the reef. In response, coral morphospecies from the west side showed higher gene expression and significant differences in pigment concentrations, endosymbiont densities, and metabolic markers (RNA, DNA, and proteins). Given the present concern about the future of coral reefs, we consider that the present study could be used as a baseline for the study of the physiological and molecular plasticity of Pocillopora corals in Mexican waters, so conservation strategies could be developed for key morphospecies in coral reefs on the Pacific coast of Mexico.
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