Adaptation strategies of the corallimorpharian Rhodactis rhodostoma to irradiance and temperature

Baraka Kuguru, Gidon Winters, Sven Beer, Scott R. Santos, Nanette E. Chadwick

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Corallimorpharians may dominate some habitats on coral reefs and compete with stony corals for access to light, yet little is known concerning their photosynthetic traits. At Eilat in the northern Red Sea, we observed that the abundance of individuals of the corallimorpharian Rhodactis rhodostoma decreased significantly with depth on the reef slope. Field and laboratory experiments revealed that they employ several mechanisms of photoadaptation to high irradiance on the shallow reef flat. Their endosymbiotic microalgae (zooxanthellae) varied significantly in both abundance and chlorophyll content with level of irradiance. Use of a diving pulse amplitude modulated fluorometer revealed that the zooxanthellae of R. rhodostoma effectively disperse excess light energy by expressing significantly higher values of non-photochemical quenching and maximum excitation pressure on photosystem II when experimentally exposed to high light (HL) versus low light (LL). Host corallimorpharian tissues mediated this response by shielding the algal symbionts from high irradiance. The endoderm of host tentacles thickened significantly and microalgal cells were located further from the mesoglea in HL than in LL. The clades of zooxanthellae hosted by the corallimorpharians also varied with depth. In shallow water, all sampled individuals hosted clade C zooxanthellae, while in deep water the majority hosted clade D. The photosynthetic output of individuals of R. rhodostoma was less affected by HL than was that of a stony coral examined. When exposed to both high temperature (HT) and HL, individuals of R. rhodostoma reduced their maximum quantum yield, but not when exposed to HL at low temperature (LT). In contrast, colonies of the scleractinian coral Favia favus reduced their photosynthetic output when exposed to HL in both temperature regimes. After 2 weeks of HT stress, R. rhodostoma polyps appeared to bleach completely but re-established their zooxanthella populations upon return to ambient temperature. We conclude that mechanisms of photoadaptation to high irradiance employed by both the endosymbiotic zooxanthellae and host corallimorpharians may explain in part the abundance of R. rhodostoma on some shallow reef flats. The ability to survive for weeks at HT while bleached also may allow corallimorpharians to repopulate shallow reef areas where scleractinians have been killed by thermal stress.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1287-1298
Number of pages12
JournalMarine Biology
Issue number4
StatePublished - May 2007


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