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J Exp Biol. 2012 Jul 1;215(Pt 13):2247-54. doi: 10.1242/jeb.067991.

Thicker host tissues moderate light stress in a cnidarian endosymbiont.

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Shannon Point Marine Center, Western Washington University, Anacortes, WA, USA.


The susceptibility of algal-cnidarian holobionts to environmental stress is dependent on attributes of both host and symbiont, but the role of the host is often unclear. We examined the influence of the host on symbiont light stress, comparing the photophysiology of the chlorophyte symbiont Elliptochloris marina in two species of sea anemones in the genus Anthopleura. After 3 months of acclimation in outdoor tanks, polyp photoprotective contraction behavior was similar between the two host species, but photochemical efficiency was 1.5 times higher in A. xanthogrammica than in A. elegantissima. Maximum relative electron transport rates, derived from rapid light curves, were 1.5 times higher in A. xanthogrammica than in A. elegantissima when symbionts were inside intact tissues, but were not significantly different between host species upon removal of outer (epidermis and mesoglea) tissue layers from symbiont-containing gastrodermal cells. Tissues of A. xanthogrammica were 1.8 times thicker than those of A. elegantissima, with outer tissue layers attenuating 1.6 times more light. We found no significant differences in light absorption properties per unit volume of tissue, confirming the direct effect of tissue thickness on light attenuation. The thicker tissues of A. xanthogrammica thus provide a favorable environment for E. marina - a relatively stress-susceptible symbiont - and may explain its higher prevalence and expanded range in A. xanthogrammica along the Pacific coast of North America. Our findings also support a photoprotective role for thicker host tissues in reef corals that has long been thought to influence variability in bleaching susceptibility among coral taxa.

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