Marine Biology

, Volume 131, Issue 4, pp 583–595

Microsensor studies of photosynthesis and respiration in the symbiotic foraminifer Orbulina universa


  • S. Rink
    • Max-Planck-Institute for Marine Microbiology, Microsensor Research Group, Celsiusstr. 1, D-28359 Bremen, Germany
  • M. Kühl
    • Max-Planck-Institute for Marine Microbiology, Microsensor Research Group, Celsiusstr. 1, D-28359 Bremen, Germany
  • J. Bijma
    • Alfred-Wegener-Institute for Polar and Marine Research, Columbusstr., D-27568 Bremerhaven, Germany
  • H. J. Spero
    • Department of Geology, University of California, Davis, California 95616, USA

DOI: 10.1007/s002270050350

Cite this article as:
Rink, S., Kühl, M., Bijma, J. et al. Marine Biology (1998) 131: 583. doi:10.1007/s002270050350


Oxygen and pH microelectrodes were used to investigate the microenvironment of the planktonic foraminifer Orbulina universa and its dinoflagellate endosymbionts. A diffusive boundary layer surrounds the foraminiferal shell and limits the O2 and proton transport from the shell to the ambient seawater and vice versa. Due to symbiont photosynthesis, high O2 concentrations of up to 206% air saturation and a pH of up to 8.8, i.e. 0.5 pH units above ambient seawater, were measured at the shell surface of the foraminifer at saturating irradiances. The respiration of the host–symbiont system in darkness decreased the O2 concentration at the shell surface to <70% of the oxygen content in the surrounding air-saturated water. The pH at the shell surface dropped to 7.9 in darkness. We measured a mean gross photosynthetic rate of 8.5 ± 4.0 nmol O2 h−1 foraminifer−1. The net photosynthesis averaged 5.3 ± 2.7 nmol O2 h−1. In the light, the calculated respiration rates reached 3.9 ± 1.9 nmol O2 h−1, whereas the dark respiration rates were significantly lower (1.7 ± 0.7 nmol O2 h−1). Experimental light–dark cycles demonstrated a very dynamic response of the symbionts to changing light conditions. Gross photosynthesis versus scalar irradiance curves (P vs Eo curves) showed light saturation irradiances (Ek) of 75 and 137 μmol photons m−2 s−1 in two O. universa specimens, respectively. No inhibition of photosynthesis was observed at irradiance levels up to 700 μmol photons m−2 s−1. The light compensation point of the symbiotic association was 50 μmol photons m−2 s−1. Radial profile measurements of scalar irradiance (Eo) inside the foraminifera showed a slight increase at the shell surface up to 105% of the incident irradiance (Ed).

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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 1998