MEPS 282:143-149 (2004)  -  doi:10.3354/meps282143

RNA/dnA ratios as indicators of metabolic activity in four species of Caribbean reef-building corals

bradley a. buckley1,2,*, Alina M. Szmant1,3

1Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, University of Miami, 4600 Rickenbacker Causeway, Virginia Key, Florida 33149, USA 2Hopkins Marine Station, Stanford University, 120 Oceanview Boulevard, Pacific Grove, California 93950, USA 3Center for Marine Science, University of North Carolina at Wilmington, 5600 Marvin K. Moss Lane, Wilmington, North Carolina 28409, USA

ABSTRACT: Global climate change and the anthropogenic degradation of tropical reef environments can have deleterious consequences for the health of reef-building corals. Bioindicators of coral status aid in efforts to identify those species and populations that are most threatened, which can help focus conservation efforts. The RNA/DNA ratio is an index of protein synthetic capacity and is expected to reflect an organism’s investment in growth. Here, we measured a decrease in the RNA/DNA ratio in both the symbiotic anemone Aiptasia pallida exposed to light-deprivation in the laboratory, and in natural populations of the coral Porites astreoides along a depth gradient, suggesting that the RNA/DNA ratio may have depended upon metabolic activity. Also, RNA/DNA ratios in the coral Montastraea annularis were higher in the winter and spring (when higher growth rates may have been supported) than in summer, at an inshore and an offshore reef in the Florida Keys. Site-specific disparity in bleaching patterns at these 2 reefs may partly explain the differences in their RNA/DNA ratios. Finally, significant interspecific variation was observed in 3 co-occurring species of the genus Montastraea: M. annularis, M. cavernosa and M. faveolata, demonstrating the potential for variability in protein synthetic capacity even between closely related species. These results support the use of the RNA/DNA ratio as an indicator of metabolic activity in natural populations of corals.


KEY WORDS: RNA/DNA ratios · Bioindicator · Corals


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