Coral Reefs

, Volume 31, Issue 2, pp 401-414

First online:

Interactive effects of climate change and eutrophication on the dinoflagellate-bearing benthic foraminifer Marginopora vertebralis

  • S. UthickeAffiliated withAustralian Institute of Marine Science Email author 
  • , N. VogelAffiliated withLudwig-Maximilians-University
  • , J. DoyleAffiliated withAustralian Institute of Marine Science
  • , C. SchmidtAffiliated withDepartment of Geosciences, University of Tübingen
  • , C. HumphreyAffiliated withAustralian Institute of Marine Science

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Elevated sea surface temperatures caused by global climate change and increased nutrient concentrations resulting from land runoff both are stressors for calcifying coral reef organisms. Here, we test the hypothesis that increased temperature leads to bleaching in dinoflagellate-bearing foraminifera similar to corals and that increased nutrients through runoff can exaggerate stress on the holobiont. In an experiment manipulating temperatures alone, we have shown that mortality of Marginopora vertebralis increased with temperatures. Most individuals died after 7 days at 34°C, ~5°C above current summer maxima. Survival at 37 days was >98% at 28°C. After 7 days of exposure to 31 or 32°C, photosynthesis of the endosymbionts was compromised, as indicated by several photophysiological parameters (effective quantum yield and apparent photosynthetic rate). In a flow-though experiment manipulating both temperature (three levels, 26, 29 and 31°C) and nitrate concentrations (3 levels, ~0.5, 1.0 and 1.4 μmol l−1 NO3 ), elevated temperature had a significant negative effect on most parameters measured. At 31°C, most photopigments (measured by UPLC) in the foraminifera were significantly reduced. The only pigment that increased was the photoprotective diatoxanthin. Several other parameters measured (maximum and effective quantum yield, O2 production in light, organic carbon contents) also significantly decreased with temperature. Optode-based respirometry demonstrated that the presence of symbionts at elevated temperatures represents a net carbon loss for the host. Growth rates of M. vertebralis and mortality at the end of the experiment were significantly affected by both temperature increase and nitrate addition. We conclude that these foraminifera bleach in a similar fashion to corals and that global sea surface temperature change and nitrate increases are stressors for these protists. Furthermore, this provides support for the hypothesis that management of local stressors elevates resilience of coral reefs to global stressors.


Coral reef ecology Climate change Land runoff Benthos Symbiosis