Resolving coral photoacclimation dynamics through coupled photophysiological and metabolomic profiling

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Journal of Experimental Biology, 2019, 222 (8)
Issue Date:
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© 2019. Published by The Company of Biologists Ltd Corals continuously adjust to short-term variation in light availability on shallow reefs. Long-term light alterations can also occur as a result of natural and anthropogenic stressors, as well as management interventions such as coral transplantation. Although short-term photophysiological responses are relatively well understood in corals, little information is available regarding photoacclimation dynamics over weeks of altered light availability. We coupled photophysiology and metabolomic profiling to explore changes that accompany longer-term photoacclimation in a key Great Barrier Reef coral species, Acropora muricata. High light (HL)- and low light (LL)acclimated corals were collected from the reef and reciprocally exposed to high and low light ex situ. Rapid light curves using pulse-amplitude modulation (PAM) fluorometry revealed photophysiological acclimation of LL corals to HL and HL corals to LL within 21 days. A subset of colonies sampled at 7 and 21 days for untargeted LC-MS and GC-MS metabolomic profiling revealed metabolic reorganization before acclimation was detected using PAM fluorometry. Metabolomic shifts were more pronounced for LL to HL corals than for their HL to LL counterparts. Compounds driving metabolomic separation between HL-exposed and LL control colonies included amino acids, organic acids, fatty acids and sterols. Reduced glycerol and campesterol suggest decreased translocation of photosynthetic products from symbiont to host in LL to HL corals, with concurrent increases in fatty acid abundance indicating reliance on stored lipids for energy. We discuss how these data provide novel insight into environmental regulation of metabolism and implications for management strategies that drive rapid changes in light availability.
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