Radiative energy budget reveals high photosynthetic efficiency in symbiont-bearing corals

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Journal Article
Journal of the Royal Society Interface, 2014, 11 (93)
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The light field on coral reefs varies in intensity and spectral composition, and is the key regulating factor for phototrophic reef organisms, for example scleractinian corals harbouring microalgal symbionts. However, the actual efficiency of light utilization in corals and the mechanisms affecting the radiative energy budget of corals are underexplored. We present the first balanced light energy budget for a symbiont-bearing coral based on a fine-scale study of the microenvironmental photobiology of the massive coral Montastrea curta. The majority (more than 96%) of the absorbed light energy was dissipated as heat, whereas the proportion of the absorbed light energy used in photosynthesis was approximately 4.0% under an irradiance of 640 μmol photons m-2 s-1. With increasing irradiance, the proportion of heat dissipation increased at the expense of photosynthesis. Despite such low energy efficiency, we found a high photosynthetic efficiency of the microalgal symbionts showing high gross photosynthesis rates and quantum efficiencies (QEs) of approximately 0.1 O2 photon-1 approaching theoretical limits under moderate irradiance levels. Corals thus appear as highly efficient light collectors with optical properties enabling light distribution over the corallite/tissue microstructural canopy that enables a high photosynthetic QE of their photosynthetic microalgae in hospite. © 2014 The Author(s) Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.
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