Thermal bleaching induced changes in photosystem II function not reflected by changes in photosystem II protein content of Stylophora pistillata

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Journal Article
Coral Reefs, 2014, 33 (1), pp. 131 - 139
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Scleractinian corals exist in a symbiosis with marine dinoflagellates of the genus Symbiodinium that is easily disrupted by changes in the external environment. Increasing seawater temperatures cause loss of pigments and expulsion of the symbionts from the host in a process known as coral bleaching; though, the exact mechanism and trigger of this process has yet to be elucidated. We exposed nubbins of the coral Stylophora pistillata to bleaching temperatures over a period of 14 daylight hours. Fifty-nine percent of the symbiont population was expelled over the course of this short-term treatment. Maximum quantum yield (F V/F M) of photosystem (PS) II for the in hospite symbiont population did not change significantly over the treatment period, but there was a significant decline in the quantity of PSII core proteins (PsbA and PsbD) at the onset of the experimental increase in temperature. F V/F M from populations of expelled symbionts dropped sharply over the first 6 h of temperature treatment, and then toward the end of the experiment, it increased to an F V/F M value similar to that of the in hospite population. This suggests that the symbionts were likely damaged prior to expulsion from the host, and the most damaged symbionts were expelled earlier in the bleaching. The quantity of PSII core proteins, PsbA and PsbD, per cell was significantly higher in the expelled symbionts than in the remaining in hospite population over 6-10 h of temperature treatment. We attribute this to a buildup of inactive PSII reaction centers, likely caused by a breakdown in the PSII repair cycle. Thus, thermal bleaching of the coral S. pistillata induces changes in PSII content that do not follow the pattern that would be expected based on the results of PSII function. © 2013 Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg.
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