Marine Biology

, Volume 122, Issue 4, pp 655–663 | Cite as

Mechanisms of bleaching deduced from histological studies of reef corals sampled during a natural bleaching event

  • B. E. Brown
  • M. D. A. Le Tissier
  • J. C. Bythell


Histological examination of bleached tissues from the reef corals Goniastrea aspera, G. retiformis, Favites abdita, Coeloseris mayeri, Goniopora pandoraensis, and Galaxea fascicularis subjected to increased seawater temperatures and possibly increased irradiance in the field, revealed a reduction in zooxanthellae density between 50 and 90% (depending on species) compared with the zooxanthellae complement of normally-coloured corals. The study revealed a number of cellular mechanisms which would result in reduced zooxanthellae densities in bleached corals. These included degeneration of zooxanthellae in situ, release of zooxanthellae from mesenterial filaments and, for two species in an advanced state of bleaching, release of algae within host cells which became detached from the endoderm. The existence of a number of cellular mechanisms of zooxanthellae loss in naturally-bleached tissues contrasts with previous descriptions of a single predominant mechanism of zooxanthellae release in laboratory simulations, and highlights the importance of complementing laboratory studies with relevant field observations.


Host Cell Reef Coral Bleached Cellular Mechanism Histological Study 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Brown BE, Holley MC (1982) Metal levels associated with tin dredging and smelting and their effect upon intertidal reef flats at Ko Phuket, Thailand. Coral Reefs 1: 131–137Google Scholar
  2. Buddemeier RW, Fautin DG (1993) Coral bleaching as an adaptive mechanism. BioSci 43: 320–326Google Scholar
  3. Bythell JC, Sharp VA, Miller D, Brown BE (1995) A novel environmentally-regulated 33 kD protein from tropical and temperate cnidarian zooxanthellae. J therm Biol 20: 15–22Google Scholar
  4. Gates RD, Baghdasarian G, Muscatine L (1992) Temperature stress causes host cell detachment in symbiotic cnidarians: implications for coral bleaching. Biol Bull mar biol Lab, Woods Hole 182: 324–332Google Scholar
  5. Glynn PW, D'Croz L (1990) Experimental evidence for high temperature stress as the cause of E1 Niño-co-incident coral mortality. Coral Reefs 8: 181–191Google Scholar
  6. Glynn PW, Peters EC, Muscatine L (1985) Coral tissue microstructure and necrosis: relation to catastrophic coral mortality in Panama. Dis aquat Organisms 1: 29–37Google Scholar
  7. GOSTA (1990) Global ocean surface temperature atlas. Meterological Office, Bracknell, UK, Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, BostonGoogle Scholar
  8. Goetsch W (1924) Die Symbiose der Süsswasser-Hydroiden und ihre künstliche Beeinflussung. Z Morph Ökol Tiere 1: 660–731Google Scholar
  9. Hadzi J (1907) Ueber die Nesselzellwanderung bei den Hydroidpolypen. Arb zool Inst Univ Wien 17: 65–94Google Scholar
  10. Hayes RL, Bush PG (1990) Microscopic observations of recovery in the reef-building scleractinian coral, Montastrea annularis after bleaching on a Cayman reef. Coral Reefs 8: 203–209Google Scholar
  11. Hoegh-Guldberg O, Smith GJ (1989) The effects of sudden changes in temperature, light and salinity on the population density and export of zooxanthellae from the reef corals Stylophora pistillata Esper and Seriatopora hystrix Dana. J exp mar Biol Ecol 129: 279–303Google Scholar
  12. Jokiel PL, Coles SL (1990) Response of Hawaiian and other Indo-Pacific reef corals to elevated temperature. Coral Reefs 8: 155–162Google Scholar
  13. Kleppel GS, Dodge RE, Reese CJ (1989) Changes in pigmentation associated with the bleaching of stony corals. Limnol Oceanogr 34: 1331–1335Google Scholar
  14. Lesser MP, Stochaj WR, Tapley DW, Shick JM (1990) Bleaching in coral reef anthozoans: effects of irradiance, ultraviolet radiation, and temperature on the activities of protective enzymes against active oxygen. Coral Reefs 8: 225–232Google Scholar
  15. Miller D, Brown BE, Sharp VA, Nganro N (1992) Changes in the expression of soluble proteins extracted from the symbiotic anemone Anemonia viridis accompany bleaching induced hyperthermis and metal stressors. J therm Biol 17: 217–223Google Scholar
  16. Muscatine L, Grossman D, Doino J (1991) Release of symbiotic algae by tropical sea anemones and corals after cold shock. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 77: 233–243Google Scholar
  17. Muscatine L, McAuley PJ (1982) Transmission of symbiotic algae to eggs of green hydra. Cytobios 33: 111–124Google Scholar
  18. Peters EC, Meyers PA, Yevich PP, Blake NJ (1981) Bioaccumulation and histopathological effects of oil on a stony coral. Mar Pollut Bull 12: 333–339Google Scholar
  19. Satapoomin U (1993) Responses of corals and coral reefs to the 1991 coral reef bleaching event in the Andaman Sea, Thailand. MSc dissertation. Chulalongkorn University, ThailandGoogle Scholar
  20. Steen RG, Muscatine L (1987) Low temperature evokes rapid exocytosis of symbiotic algae by a sea anemone. Biol Bull mar biol Lab, Woods Hole 172: 246–263Google Scholar
  21. Suharsono, Brown BE (1972) A comparison of methods used in the evaluation of mitotic indices of zooxanthellae. J exp mar biol Ecol 158: 179–189Google Scholar
  22. Szmant A, Gassman NJ (1990) The effects of prolonged ‘bleaching’ in the tissue biomass and reproduction of the reef coral Montastrea annularis. Coral Reefs 8: 217–224Google Scholar
  23. Trench RK (1974) Nutritional potentials in Zoanthus sociathus (Coelenterata, Anthozoa). Helgola nder wiss Meeresunters 26: 174–216Google Scholar
  24. Yonge CM, Nicholls AG (1931) Studies of the physiology of corals. 4. The structure, distribution, and physiology of the zooxanthellae. Scient Rep Gt Barrier Reef Exped 1928–1929. 135–176Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  • B. E. Brown
    • 1
  • M. D. A. Le Tissier
    • 1
  • J. C. Bythell
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Marine Science and Coastal ManagementUniversity of Newcastle upon TyneNewcastle upon TyneEngland

Personalised recommendations