Understanding the response of the coral holobiont to environmental change is crucial to inform conservation efforts. The most pressing problem is “coral bleaching,” usually precipitated by prolonged thermal stress. We used untargeted, polar metabolite profiling to investigate the physiological response of the coral species Montipora capitata and Pocillopora acuta to heat stress. Our goal was to identify diagnostic markers present early in the bleaching response. From the untargeted UHPLC-MS data, a variety of co-regulated dipeptides were found that have the highest differential accumulation in both species. The structures of four dipeptides were determined and showed differential accumulation in symbiotic and aposymbiotic (alga-free) populations of the sea anemone Aiptasia (Exaiptasia pallida), suggesting the deep evolutionary origins of these dipeptides and their involvement in symbiosis. These and other metabolites may be used as diagnostic markers for thermal stress in wild coral.
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