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Plant Cell Environ. 2006 Dec;29(12):2133-42.

The impact of coral bleaching on the pigment profile of the symbiotic alga, Symbiodinium.

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  • 1Department of Biology, University of York, York, UK.


Bleaching of corals by loss of symbiotic dinoflagellate algae and/or photosynthetic pigments is commonly triggered by elevated temperatures coupled with high irradiance, and is a first-order threat to coral reef communities. In this study, a high-resolution high-performance liquid chromatography method integrated with mass spectrometry was applied to obtain the first definitive identification of chlorophyll and carotenoid pigments of three clades of symbiotic dinoflagellate algae (Symbiodinium) in corals, and their response to experimentally elevated temperature and irradiance. The carotenoids peridinin, dinoxanthin, diadinoxanthin (Dn), diatoxanthin (Dt) and beta-carotene were detected, together with chlorophylls a and c2, and phaeophytin a, in all three algal clades in unstressed corals. On exposure to elevated temperature and irradiance, three coral species (Montastrea franksi and Favia fragum with clade B algae, and Montastrea cavernosa with clade C) bleached by loss of 50-80% of their algal cells, with no significant impact to chlorophyll a or c2, or peridinin in retained algal cells. One species (Agaricia sp. with clade C) showed no significant reduction in algal cells at elevated temperature and irradiance, but lost substantial amounts of chlorophyll a and carotenoid pigments, presumably through photo-oxidative processes. Two coral species (Porites astreoides and Porites porites both bearing clade A algae) did not bleach. The impact of elevated temperature and irradiance on the levels of the photoprotective xanthophylls (Dn + Dt) and beta-carotene varied among the corals, both in pool size and xanthophyll cycling, and was not correlated to coral bleaching resistance.

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