Effects of photoacclimation on the light niche of corals: a process-based approach
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The ecology of photosynthetic organisms is influenced by the need to adjust the photosynthetic apparatus to variable light environments (photoacclimation). In this study, we quantified different components of the photoacclimation process for a reef-building coral (Turbinaria mesenterina, Lamarck, 1816): including, variation in absorption cross-section, size of photosynthetic units, turnover time, chlorophyll content, and colony respiration. We used these calibrations to characterize this species’ light niche, and to determine the sensitivity of the niche boundaries to different processes of photoacclimation. Results showed that the breadth of the light niche was most sensitive to the size of the photosynthetic unit, absorption cross-section, and rates of respiration. Habitats with the highest light availability did not lead to maximal energy acquisition. This was because, although corals acclimated to high light have high rates of photosynthesis per unit chlorophyll, their chlorophyll content was strongly reduced. This suggests that potential energetic benefits that could be achieved through increased light harvesting (i.e., increased chlorophyll content) in high-light habitats are outweighed by costs associated with photoprotection. Such costs appear to place an upper bound on the habitat distributions of coral species. Our approach reveals how the photophysiological processes involved in photoacclimation interact to determine the light niche.
KeywordsPhotosynthetic Apparatus Turnover Time Niche Width Unit Surface Area Growth Irradiance
We thank R. Fox for assistance with fieldwork and staff at James Cook University (JCU) Marine and Aquaculture Research Facilities Unit. This work was funded by the Australian Research Council (ARC) and JCU. This is a contribution from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies.
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