The ecological distribution and comparative photobiology of symbiotic dinoflagellates from reef corals in Belize: Potential implications for coral bleaching

Warner, Mark E., Todd C. LaJeunesse, Jennifer D. Robison, Rebecca M. Thur

Limnol. Oceanogr., 51(4), 2006, 1887-1897 | DOI: 10.4319/lo.2006.51.4.1887

ABSTRACT: The photobiology and distribution of dinoflagellates in the genus Symbiodinium was investigated for eight common reef coral species over a depth range of 1-25 m on a coral reef in Belize. The genetic identification of symbionts using polymerase chain reaction-denaturing gradient electrophoresis of the internal transcribed spacer 2 region revealed marked differences in host specificity and depth zonation for certain symbiont types. Each host taxon was found to associate with a limited subset of symbionts that exist in the region. Intraspecific variation was greatest at the shallower sites (1-8 m), where as many as five distinctive symbionts were distributed among a single host population (e.g., Montastraea faveolata). At depth (15-25 m), variation from colony to colony was minimal, where one algal type associated with most or all the colonies of a species. The maximal photochemical efficiency and light-acclimated efficiency of photosystem II (PSII) were determined by active chlorophyll fluorescence and used to assess potential differences in photosynthetic potential. Under normal ambient conditions, little or no physiological differences were noted among different symbionts occurring in the same species of coral at a particular depth, yet interspecific differences in PSII efficiency were noted between coral species at the same depth. Short-term bleaching experiments showed that symbionts B1 and C7 within M. faveolata experienced a higher degree of thermally induced photoinhibition relative to A4a symbionts in Porites astreoides. The differential patterns of PSII inactivation observed within M. faveolata could be explained by the presence of different symbiont populations within this coral. Differences in in situ maximum excitation pressure on PSII between symbionts within some corals may provide a predictive measure of how different species of coral or individual colonies with different symbionts would respond to natural thermal stress events.

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