Coral Reefs

, Volume 32, Issue 4, pp 923–934 | Cite as

Lipid biomarkers in Symbiodinium dinoflagellates: new indicators of thermal stress

  • J. Kneeland
  • K. HughenEmail author
  • J. Cervino
  • B. Hauff
  • T. Eglinton


Lipid content and fatty acid profiles of corals and their dinoflagellate endosymbionts are known to vary in response to high-temperature stress. To better understand the heat-stress response in these symbionts, we investigated cultures of Symbiodinium goreauii type C1 and Symbiodinium sp. clade subtype D1 grown under a range of temperatures and durations. The predominant lipids produced by Symbiodinium are palmitic (C16) and stearic (C18) saturated fatty acids and their unsaturated analogs, the polyunsaturated fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (C22:6, n-3; DHA), and a variety of sterols. Prolonged exposure to high temperature causes the relative amount of unsaturated acids within the C18 fatty acids in Symbiodinium tissue to decrease. Thermal stress also causes a decrease in abundance of fatty acids relative to sterols, as well as the more specific ratio of DHA to an algal 4-methyl sterol. These shifts in fatty acid unsaturation and fatty acid-to-sterol ratios are common to both types C1 and D1, but the apparent thermal threshold of lipid changes is lower for type C1. This work indicates that ratios among free fatty acids and sterols in Symbiodinium can be used as sensitive indicators of thermal stress. If the Symbiodinium lipid stress response is unchanged in hospite, the algal heat-stress biomarkers we have identified could be measured to detect thermal stress within the coral holobiont. These results provide new insights into the potential role of lipids in the overall Symbiodinium thermal stress response.


Lipid biomarkers Thermal stress Symbiodinium Fatty acid unsaturation Thermal sensitivity 



Daniel Montluçon and Nick Drenzek assisted with lipid analyses. This research was supported by Award No. USA 00002 to K. Hughen made by King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST). This manuscript benefitted significantly from the helpful comments of two anonymous reviewers.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (DOC 25 kb)
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Supplementary material 3 (XLS 79 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • J. Kneeland
    • 1
  • K. Hughen
    • 1
    Email author
  • J. Cervino
    • 1
  • B. Hauff
    • 2
  • T. Eglinton
    • 1
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Marine Chemistry and GeochemistryWoods Hole Oceanographic InstitutionWoods HoleUSA
  2. 2.Department of ZoologyMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA
  3. 3.Geological InstituteEidgenössische Technische HochschuleZurichSwitzerland

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