, Volume 149, Issue 6, pp 1325-1335
Date: 03 May 2006

Intra-colonial variability in light acclimation of zooxanthellae in coral tissues of Pocillopora damicornis

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Abstract

We investigated heterogeneity of light acclimation of photosynthesis in sun- and shade-adapted coenosarc and polyp tissues of Pocillopora damicornis. The zooxanthellar community within P. damicornis colonies at Heron Island is genetically uniform, yet they showed a large degree of plasticity in their photo-physiological acclimation linked to light microclimates characterised by fibre-optic microprobes. Microscale scalar irradiance measurements showed higher absorption in polyp than coenosarc tissues and higher absorption in the more densely pigmented shade-adapted polyps than in sun-adapted polyps. The combination of an O2 microelectrode with a fibre-optic microprobe (combined sensor diameter 50–100 μm) enabled parallel measurements of O2 concentration, gross photosynthesis rate and photosystem II (PSII) quantum yield at the coral surface under steady-state conditions as a function of increasing irradiances. Lower O2 levels at the tissue surface and higher compensation irradiance indicated a higher respiration activity in sun-adapted polyp tissue as compared to shade-adapted polyps. Shade-adapted coenosarc and polyp tissues exhibited lower maxima of relative electron transport rates (rETRmax) (84±15 and 41±10, respectively) than sun-adapted coenosarc and polyp tissues (136±14 and 77±13, respectively). Shade-adapted tissues showed stronger decrease of rETR at high scalar irradiances as compared to sun-adapted tissues. The relationship between the relative PSII electron transport and the rate of gross photosynthesis, as well as O2 concentration, was non-linear in sun-adapted tissues over the entire irradiance range, whereas for shade-adapted tissues the relationship became non-linear at medium to high scalar irradiances >200 μmol photons m−2 s−1. This suggests that rETR measurements should be used with caution in corals as a proxy for photosynthesis rates. The apparently high rates of photosynthesis (oxygen evolution rates) suggest that there must be a considerable electron transport rate through the photosystems that is not observed by the rETR measurements. This may be accounted for by vertical heterogeneity of zooxanthellae in the tissue and the operation of an alternative electron pathway such as cyclic electron flow around PSII.

Communicated by G.F. Humphrey, Sydney