Post-bleaching viability of expelled zooxanthellae from the scleractinian coral Pocillopora damicornis

Inter Research
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Journal Article
Marine Ecology Progress Series, 2007, 352 pp. 137 - 144
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Coral bleaching events have been linked to elevated seawater temperatures in combination with intense light and can be characterised by the loss of symbionts (zooxanthellae, genus Symbiodinium) from the host tissue, as well as a reduction in photosynthetic pigments in these zooxanthellae. The long-term (days) viability of expelled zooxanthellae in the water column from the scleractiman coral Pocillopora damicornis was explored in this study through measurements of photosynthetic health and morphological condition. After initial expulsion, zooxanthellae were found to be photosynthetically competent and structurally intact. However, within 6 to 12 h following this time, photosystem II photochemical efficiency dramatically declined in these cells and photosynthetic damage was gradually manifested in the loss of structural integrity of the cell. The time of expulsion during bleaching exposure, as well as ambient water temperature, greatly influenced survivorship. Expelled zooxanthellae were collected at 4 different time intervals (0-6, 6-12, 12-24 and 24-36 h) following the onset of exposure to bleaching conditions (32 degrees C and 400 mu mol photons m(-2) s(-1)) and then maintained at 28, 30 or 32 degrees C and 100 mu mol photons m(-2) s(-1) for up to 96 h. Those cells expelled within the first 6 h of bleaching and held at 28 degrees C (lagoon temperature) had the greatest longevity, although even in this treatment, long-term photosynthetic viability was restricted to 5 d in the water column. This suggests that unless expelled zooxanthellae inhabit other environments of coral reefs (such as sediments) which may be more favourable for survival, their capacity for persistence in the environment is extremely limited.
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