Thermal responses of Symbiodinium photosynthetic carbon assimilation
The symbiosis between hermatypic corals and their dinoflagellate endosymbionts, genus Symbiodinium, is based on carbon exchange. This symbiosis is disrupted by thermally induced coral bleaching, a stress response in which the coral host expels its algal symbionts as they become physiologically impaired. The disruption of the dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) supply or the thermal inactivation of Rubisco have been proposed as sites of initial thermal damage that leads to the bleaching response. Symbiodinium possesses a highly unusual Form II ribulose bisphosphate carboxylase/oxygenase (Rubisco), which exhibits a lower CO2:O2 specificity and may be more thermally unstable than the Form I Rubiscos of other algae and land plants. Components of the CO2 concentrating mechanism (CCM), which supplies inorganic carbon for photosynthesis, may also be temperature sensitive. Here, we examine the ability of four cultured Symbiodinium strains to acquire and fix DIC across a temperature gradient. Surprisingly, the half-saturation constant of photosynthesis with respect to DIC concentration (KP), an index of CCM function, declined with increasing temperature in three of the four strains, indicating a greater potential for photosynthetic carbon acquisition at elevated temperatures. In the fourth strain, there was no effect of temperature on KP. Finding no evidence for thermal inhibition of the CCM, we conclude that CCM components are not likely to be the primary sites of thermal damage. Reduced photosynthetic quantum yields, a hallmark of thermal bleaching, were observed at low DIC concentrations, leaving open the possibility that reduced inorganic carbon availability is involved in bleaching.