, Volume 29, Issue 4, pp 899-907
Date: 23 May 2010

Calcification in bleached and unbleached Montastraea faveolata: evaluating the role of oxygen and glycerol

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Abstract

All reef-building corals are symbiotic with dinoflagellates of the genus Symbiodinium, which influences many aspects of the host’s physiology including calcification. Coral calcification is a biologically controlled process performed by the host that takes place several membranes away from the site of photosynthesis performed by the symbiont. Although it is well established that light accelerates CaCO3 deposition in reef-building corals (commonly referred to as light-enhanced calcification), the complete physiological mechanism behind the process is not fully understood. To better comprehend the coral calcification process, a series of laboratory experiments were conducted in the major Caribbean reef-building species Montastraea faveolata, to evaluate the effect of glycerol addition and/or the super-saturation of oxygen in the seawater. These manipulations were performed in bleached and unbleached corals, to separate the effect of photosynthesis from calcification. The results suggest that under normal physiological conditions, a 42% increase in seawater oxygen concentration promotes a twofold increase in dark-calcification rates relative to controls. On the other hand, the results obtained using bleached corals suggest that glycerol is required, as a metabolic fuel, in addition to an oxygenic environment in a symbiosis that has been disrupted. Also, respiration rates in symbiotic corals that were pre-incubated in light conditions showed a kinetic limitation, whereas corals that were pre-incubated in darkness were oxygen limited, clearly emphasizing the role of oxygen in this regard. These findings indicate that calcification in symbiotic corals is not strictly a “light-enhanced” or “dark-repressed” process, but rather, the products of photosynthesis have a critical role in calcification, which should be viewed as a “photosynthesis-driven” process. The results presented here are discussed in the context of the current knowledge of the coral calcification process.

Communicated by Biology Editor Dr. Mark Warner