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J Exp Biol. 2006 Nov;209(Pt 22):4546-56.

Growth and photosynthesis of two Mediterranean corals, Cladocora caespitosa and Oculina patagonica, under normal and elevated temperatures.

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Centre Scientifique de Monaco, Av. Saint Martin, MC-98000, Principality of Monaco.


The Ligurian Sea (NW Mediterranean) experienced warm summers in 1998, 1999 and from 2003 to 2005. The temperature was 1-3 degrees C higher than the mean summer value (24 degrees C) and remained high over a long period. During these summers, mass-mortality events, affecting several sessile benthic species, were reported. In the present study, we tested the long-term (3-7 weeks) effect of different temperatures (20 degrees C measured in spring and autumn, 24 degrees C observed in summer, and 26 degrees C and 28 degrees C abnormal summer values) on two Mediterranean corals, Cladocora caespitosa and Oculina patagonica. Growth rate, photosynthetic efficiency (Fv/Fm), relative electron transport rate (ETR), zooxanthellae and chlorophyll (chl) contents were measured during 48 days incubation. At 20 degrees C, all parameters remained constant during the whole experiment for both species. At higher temperatures, most physiological parameters were affected by only 2-5 weeks at 24 degrees C, and were severely depressed at higher temperatures. Small replicate samples (nubbins) of O. patagonica significantly decreased their zooxanthellae and chl concentrations at all temperatures, after 2 weeks of incubation. Their Fv/Fm values, as well as their growth rates, were also gradually reduced during the incubation at all temperatures. However, only a few nubbins maintained at 28 degrees C showed signs of tissue necrosis after 34 days, and these gradually recovered tissue when temperature was returned to normal. In nubbins of C. caespitosa, chl and zooxanthellae concentrations decreased only after 34 days of incubation at 26 degrees C and 28 degrees C. At the same time, tissue necrosis was observed, explaining the loss of the symbionts. Fv/Fm was reduced only after 34 days of incubation at the different temperatures, and growth rate was first enhanced, before collapsing by 30% at 24 degrees C and by 90-100% at 26 degrees C and 28 degrees C. All samples maintained at 26 degrees C and 28 degrees C had died, due to tissue necrosis, by the end of the experiment. Results obtained suggest that O. patagonica is more able than C. caespitosa to resist high temperature conditions because of its rapid bleaching capacity. In contrast, it seems that C. caespitosa is living close to its thermal limit during the summer period; therefore, a long-term increase at 24 degrees C or above could be lethal for this coral, just as was observed in situ during the recent warm summers.

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