Light gradients and optical microniches in coral tissues

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Journal Article
Frontiers in Microbiology, 2012, 3 (AUG)
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Light quantity and quality are among the most important factors determining the physiology and stress response of zooxanthellate corals. Yet, almost nothing is known about the light field that Symbiodinium experiences withintheircoralhost, andthebasic opticalproperties of coral tissue are unknown.We used scalar irradiance microprobes to characterize vertical and lateral light gradients within and across tissues of several coral species. Our results revealed the presence of steep light gradients with photosynthetically available radiation decreasing by about one order of magnitude from the tissue surface to the coral skeleton. Surface scalar irradiance was consistently higher over polyp tissue than over coenosarc tissue in faviid corals. Coral bleaching increased surface scalar irradiance by ~150% (between 500 and 700 nm) relative to a healthy coral. Photosynthesis peaked around 300 μm within the tissue, which corresponded to a zone exhibiting strongest depletion of scalar irradiance. Deeper coral tissue layers, e.g., ~1000 μm into aboral polyp tissues, harbor optical microniches, where only ~10% of the incident irradiance remains. We conclude that the optical microenvironment of corals exhibits strong lateral and vertical gradients of scalar irradiance, which are affected by both tissue and skeleton optical properties. Our results imply that zooxanthellae populations inhabit a strongly heterogeneous light environment and highlight the presence of different optical microniches in corals; an important finding for understanding the photobiology, stress response, as well as the phenotypic and genotypic plasticity of coral symbionts. © 2012 Wangpraseurt, Larkum, Ralph and Kühl.
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