Reciprocal transplantation of the heterotrophic coral Tubastraea coccinea (Scleractinia: Dendrophylliidae) between distinct habitats did not alter its venom toxin composition


Tubastraea coccinea is an azooxanthellate coral species recorded in the Indian and Atlantic oceans and is presently widespread in the southwestern Atlantic with an alien status for Brazil. T. coccinea outcompete other native coral species by using a varied repertoire of biological traits. For example, T. coccinea has evolved potent venom capable of immobilizing and digesting zooplankton prey. Diversification and modification of venom toxins can provide potential adaptive benefits to individual fitness, yet acquired alteration of venom composition in cnidarians is poorly understood as the adaptive flexibility affecting toxin composition in these ancient lineages has been largely ignored. We used quantitative high-throughput proteomics to detect changes in toxin expression in clonal fragments of specimens collected and interchanged from two environmentally distinct and geographically separate study sites.

Unexpectedly, despite global changes in protein expression, there were no changes in the composition and abundance of toxins from coral fragments recovered from either site, and following clonal transplantation between sites. There were also no apparent changes to the cnidome (cnidae) and gross skeletal or soft tissue morphologies of the specimens. These results suggest that the conserved toxin complexity of T. coccinea co-evolved with innovation of the venom delivery system, and its morphological development and phenotypic expression are not modulated by habitat pressures over short periods of time. The adaptive response of the venom trait to specific predatory

regimes, however, necessitates further consideration.