MEPS 191:53-69 (1999)  -  doi:10.3354/meps191053

Seasonal fluctuations in environmental factors and variations in symbiotic algae and chlorophyll pigments in four Indo-Pacific coral species

B. E. Brown1,*, R. P. Dunne1, I. Ambarsari1, M. D. A. Le Tissier1, U. Satapoomin2

1Department of Marine Sciences and Coastal Management, University of Newcastle upon Tyne, Newcastle NE1 7RU, United Kingdom
2Phuket Marine Biological Center, PO Box 60, Phuket 83000, Thailand

ABSTRACT: Marked seasonality is observed in sea-surface temperature (SST) and photosynthetically active radiation (PAR) received by shallow water corals at Phuket, Thailand (7°N latitude). This seasonality is reflected in both algal densities and algal chlorophylls (a and c2) in 4 massive species of scleractinian corals, namely Coeloseris mayeri, Goniastrea retiformis, Porites lutea, and G. aspera. Algal numbers and algal chlorophylls are generally maximal at the end of the wet season (November) and minimal at the end of the dry season (March to May). Algal densities are reduced by up to 53% in May compared to November in some species, while algal chlorophylls may be up to 4-fold greater in November. Concomitant with these changes are differences in algal cell volume in 3 out of the 4 species studied and alterations in host tissue depth, with smaller algal volume and greater tissue depth at the end of the wet compared with the dry season. Over the period 1993 to 1996 algal numbers showed a significant negative correlation with monthly (30 d) and short-term (1 to 2 d) values of both SST and PAR dose, while algal chlorophylls displayed a significant negative correlation with PAR dose in the 5 d preceding collection. Rising SST and increasing PAR in the dry season are paralleled by decreasing algal numbers and algal chlorophylls on an annual basis. Recovery of algal densities and a build-up in algal chlorophylls follow reductions in SST and PAR at the end of the wet season. In one of the years, when coral 'bleaching' was widespread at the study site (May 1995), the interaction between SST and PAR resulted in an 86% reduction in algal densities in bleached corals compared to their annual maximum density. This study highlights the importance of seasonal fluctuations in physical environmental parameters and concomitant changes in the coral/algal symbiosis. Furthermore, it emphasises the need for greater understanding of the potential effects of seasonal and inter-annual variability on the status of algal symbionts, as well as identification of critical times of the year when visible bleaching may not be obvious but when algal numbers and algal chlorophylls are low and effects on coral physiology may be far-reaching.

KEY WORDS: Zooxanthellae · Chlorophyll · Solar radiation · Sea temperature · Nutrients

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