MEPS 248:85-97 (2003)  -  doi:10.3354/meps248085

Photosynthetic responses of the coral Montipora digitata to cold temperature stress

Tracey Saxby1,3,*, William C. Dennison1, Ove Hoegh-Guldberg2

1School of Life Sciences, and
2Centre for Marine Studies, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland 4072, Australia
3Present address: University of Maryland Centre for Environmental Science, PO Box 775, Cambridge, Maryland 21613, USA

ABSTRACT: Coral bleaching events have become more frequent and widespread, largely due to elevated sea surface temperatures. Global climate change could lead to increased variability of sea surface temperatures, through influences on climate systems, e.g. El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO). Field observations in 1999, following a strong ENSO, revealed that corals bleached in winter after unusually cold weather. To explore the basis for these observations, the photosynthetic responses of the coral species Montipora digitata Studer were investigated in a series of temperature and light experiments. Small replicate coral colonies were exposed to ecologically relevant lower temperatures for varying durations and under light regimes that ranged from darkness to full sunlight. Photosynthetic efficiency was analyzed using a pulse amplitude modulated (PAM) fluorometer (F0, Fm, Fv/Fm), and chlorophyll a (chl a) content and symbiotic dinoflagellate density were analyzed with spectrophotometry and microscopy, respectively. Cold temperature stress had a negative impact on M. digitata colonies indicated by decreased photosynthetic efficiency (Fv/Fm), loss of symbiotic dinoflagellates and changes in photosynthetic pigment concentrations. Corals in higher light regimes were more susceptible to cold temperature stress. Moderate cold stress resulted in photoacclimatory responses, but severe cold stress resulted in photodamage, bleaching and increased mortality. Responses to cold temperature stress of M. digitata appeared similar to that observed in corals exposed to warmer than normal temperatures, suggesting a common mechanism. The results of this study suggest that corals and coral reefs may also be impacted by exposure to cold as well as warm temperature extremes as climate change occurs.

KEY WORDS: Coral bleaching · Photosynthesis · Climate change · Photoinhibition · Fv/Fm · Cold temperature stress · Symbiotic dinoflagellates

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