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The influence of irradiance on the severity of thermal bleaching in sea anemones that host anemonefish

Abstract

Entacmaea quadricolor is a geographically widespread species of sea anemone that forms a three-way symbiosis with anemonefish and Symbiodinium. This species dominates the reef substrata at North Solitary Island, Australia, which is located in a region identified as a climate change hot spot. Their geographic location places these anemones under significant threat from rising ocean temperatures, although their upper thermal limit and risk of bleaching are unknown. To address this knowledge gap, anemones were exposed to one of four temperatures (23, 25, 27, or 29°C) and one of two irradiance treatments (high or low light) over 6 days. At moderate temperatures (27°C, 1°C above summer average), anemone bleaching was characterised by symbiont expulsion, while extreme temperatures (29°C) resulted in an additional loss of photosynthetic pigments from within symbionts, and in some cases, host mortality. Irradiance influenced the susceptibility to thermal stress with high light promoting the bleaching response, along with significant reductions in the effective quantum yield of anemone symbionts. The long-term loss of photosystem II photochemical efficiency within in hospite symbionts was observed during exposure to temperatures exceeding the summer average, indicating photosynthetic damage. The resident Symbiodinium, identified as clade C using 28S rRNA gene sequences, therefore represents the partner within the symbiosis that is likely to be most vulnerable to rising seawater temperatures. Results suggest that E. quadricolor is living within approximately 1°C of the upper thermal maximum at the Solitary Islands, and given the predictions for rising seawater temperature on Australia’s east coast, the thermal threshold at which bleaching will occur is expected to be reached and exceeded more frequently in the future.

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Acknowledgments

We would like to thank K. Cowden, S. Soule, and G. Shipley for technical support, L. Brooks for help with statistical analyses, E. Deschaseaux for laboratory assistance, P. Ralph for the use of the Mini-PAM fluorometer, D. Carter and T. Bui for performing Symbiodinium clade analyses, and C. Damiano for help with anemone collection. This project was supported by a grant from the Sydney Aquarium Conservation Foundation and was done under the conditions specified by NSW Fisheries Permit P09/0100-1.0.

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Correspondence to R. Hill.

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Communicated by Biology Editor Dr. Mark Warner

Electronic supplementary material

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ESM 1 Entacmaea quadricolor expelling a large mass of endosymbionts after two days of exposure to the 29°C high-light treatment. Supplementary material 1 (AVI 39907 kb)

ESM 1 Entacmaea quadricolor expelling a large mass of endosymbionts after two days of exposure to the 29°C high-light treatment. Supplementary material 1 (AVI 39907 kb)

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Hill, R., Scott, A. The influence of irradiance on the severity of thermal bleaching in sea anemones that host anemonefish. Coral Reefs 31, 273–284 (2012) doi:10.1007/s00338-011-0848-x

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Keywords

  • Chlorophyll a fluorescence
  • Symbiodinium
  • Symbiosis
  • Bleaching
  • Climate change
  • Entacmaea quadricolor