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PeerJ. 2017 Jun 12;5:e3456. doi: 10.7717/peerj.3456. eCollection 2017.

DOC concentrations across a depth-dependent light gradient on a Caribbean coral reef.

Author information

Department of Marine Microbiology and Biogeochemistry, NIOZ Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research and Utrecht University, Den Burg, The Netherlands.
CARMABI Foundation, Willemstad, Curaçao.
Department of Freshwater and Marine Ecology, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
Wageningen Marine Research, Den Helder, The Netherlands.


Photosynthates released by benthic primary producers (BPP), such as reef algae and scleractinian corals, fuel the dissolved organic carbon (DOC) production on tropical coral reefs. DOC concentrations near BPP have repeatedly been observed to be elevated compared to those in the surrounding water column. As the DOC release of BPP increases with increasing light availability, elevated DOC concentrations near them will, in part, also depend on light availability. Consequently, DOC concentrations are likely to be higher on the shallow, well-lit reef terrace than in deeper sections on the fore reef slope. We measured in situ DOC concentrations and light intensity in close proximity to the reef alga Dictyota sp. and the scleractinian coral Orbicella faveolata along a depth-dependent light gradient from 5 to 20 m depth and compared these to background concentrations in the water column. At 10 m (intermediate light), DOC concentrations near Dictyota sp. were elevated by 15 µmol C L-1 compared to background concentrations in the water column, but not at 5 and 20 m (high and low light, respectively), or near O. faveolata at any of the tested depths. DOC concentrations did not differ between depths and thereby light environments for any of the tested water types. However, water type and depth appear to jointly affect in situ DOC concentrations across the tested depth-dependent light gradient. Corroborative ex situ measurements of excitation pressure on photosystem II suggest that photoinhibition in Dictyota sp. is likely to occur at light intensities that are commonly present on Curaçaoan coral reefs under high light levels at 5 m depth during midday. Photoinhibition may have thereby reduced the DOC release of Dictyota sp. and DOC concentrations in its close proximity. Our results indicate that the occurrence of elevated DOC concentrations did not follow a natural light gradient across depth. Instead, a combination of multiple factors, such as water type, light availability (including the restriction by photoinhibition), and water movement are proposed to interactively determine the DOC concentrations in the close vicinity of BPP.


Algae; Coral; Coral reef; Depth gradient; Dissolved organic carbon; Light; Photoinhibition

Conflict of interest statement

The authors declare there are no competing interests.

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