Symbiosis regulation in a facultatively symbiotic temperate coral: zooxanthellae division and expulsion
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Zooxanthellae mitotic index (MI) and expulsion rates were measured in the facultatively symbiotic scleractinian Astrangia poculata during winter and summer off the southern New England coast, USA. While MI was significantly higher in summer than in winter, mean expulsion rates were comparable between seasons. Corals therefore appear to allow increases in symbiont density when symbiosis is advantageous during the warm season, followed by a net reduction during the cold season when zooxanthellae may draw resources from the coral. Given previous reports that photosynthesis in A. poculata symbionts does not occur below approximately 6°C, considerable zooxanthellae division at 3°C and in darkness suggests that zooxanthellae are heterotrophic at low seasonal temperatures. Finally, examination of expulsion as a function of zooxanthellae density revealed that corals with very low zooxanthellae densities export a significantly greater proportion of their symbionts, apparently allowing them to persist in a stable azooxanthellate state.
KeywordsTemperate coral Astrangia Zooxanthellae Expulsion Facultative symbiosis
Coral collection assistance was provided by J. Barber, R. Rotjan, and L. Trueblood. Many thanks to R. Smolowitz for the use of her microscope. Helpful manuscript suggestions were made by J. Barber.
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