MEPS 267:159-171 (2004)  -  doi:10.3354/meps267159

Degradation and mineralization of coral mucus in reef environments

Christian Wild1,*, Mohammed Rasheed2, Ursula Werner1, Ulrich Franke1, Ron Johnstone3, Markus Huettel1,4

1Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology, Celsiusstrasse 1, 28359 Bremen, Germany
2Marine Science Station, University of Jordan and Yarmouk University, PO Box 195, Aqaba, Jordan
3Centre for Marine Studies, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland 4072, Australia
4Department of Oceanography, Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida 32306-4320, USA

ABSTRACT: With in situ and laboratory chamber incubations we demonstrate that coral mucus, an important component of particulate organic matter in reef ecosystems, is a valuable substrate for microbial communities in the water column and sandy sediments of coral reefs. The addition of coral mucus to the water of benthic chambers placed on lagoon sands in the coral cay Heron Island, Australia, resulted in a rapid and significant increase in both O2 consumption and DIC production in the chambers. The permeable coral sands permitted the transport of mucus into the sediment with interfacial water flows, resulting in the mucus being mainly (>90%) degraded in the sediment and not in the water column of the chambers. A low ratio of 0.48 (in situ) to 0.64 (laboratory) for O2 consumption/DIC production after the addition of coral mucus, and high sulfate reduction rates (SRR) in natural sediments which were exposed to coral mucus, suggest a large contribution of anaerobic processes to the degradation of coral mucus. Oxygen penetrated less than 5 mm deep into these sediments. The microbial reaction to mucus addition was rapid, with a calculated in situ C turnover rate ranging from 7 to 18% h-1. The degradation of coral mucus showed a dependency on the permeability of the carbonate sediments, with faster degradation and remineralization in coarse sands. This indicates the importance of permeable reef sediments for the trapping and degradation of organic matter. We suggest that coral mucus may have a function as a carrier of energy to the benthic microbial consumers.

KEY WORDS: Coral mucus · POM · Degradation · Permeable carbonate sands · O2 consumption · DIC production · C turnover

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