Efficient light-harvesting of mesophotic corals is facilitated by coral optical traits

Netanel Kramer*, Raz Tamir, Or Ben-Zvi, Steven L. Jacques, Yossi Loya, Daniel Wangpraseurt*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Sustained light-dependent coral reef communities can be found at a wide range of light environments, extending from the sea level to as deep as 150 m (i.e. esophotic). How mesophotic corals thrive despite extremely limited light conditions still requires further investigation. Here, we undertook a comprehensive ecophysiological and bio-optical study on four depth-generalist coral species aiming to delineate the functional role that optical trait properties have in light-harvesting, at contrasting light regimes. We show that the optical traits of coral skeletons are adjusted to their ambient light conditions and complement the microalgal demands for sufficient light, thus exhibiting a spatially efficient photosymbiotic system. In contrast to shallow corals, mesophotic corals absorbed up to three fold more light, resulting in excellent photosynthetic response under light conditions of only ~3% of the incident surface irradiance. The enhanced light-harvesting capacity of mesophotic corals was achieved by redistributing light in the coral skeleton through optical scattering, thereby facilitating light transport and absorption by densely pigmented host tissue. Our findings provide fundamental insight into the light-harvesting mechanisms underlying the productivity of mesophotic coral reef ecosystems, yet also raise concerns regarding their ability to withstand prolonged environmental disturbances. A free Plain Language Summary can be found within the Supporting Information of this article.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)406-418
Number of pages13
JournalFunctional Ecology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2022


FundersFunder number
European Union's Horizon research and innovation program
Interuniversity Institute for Marine Sciences in Eilat
Horizon 2020 Framework Programme730984
Horizon 2020 Framework Programme
National Research Foundation Singapore2654/17
National Research Foundation Singapore
Israel Science FoundationISF‐NRF
Israel Science Foundation


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