Seasonal patterns of tissue biomass and densities of symbiotic dinoflagellates in reef corals and relation to coral bleaching

W. K. Fitt, F. K. McFarland, M. E. Warner, and G. C. Chilcoat

Limnol. Oceanogr., 45(3), 2000, 677-685 | DOI: 10.4319/lo.2000.45.3.0677

ABSTRACT: Tissue biomass (ash-free dry weight) and symbiotic dinoflagellates (density, chlorophyll a cell-1 or cm-2 of coral surface area) of five species of reef-building corals were monitored seasonally for up to 4 yr at three different depths in the Bahamas. The lowest values of all tissue biomass and algal symbiont parameters occurred during the late summer-fall sample periods. In contrast, the highest densities and pigment content of symbionts usually occurred during the winter, whereas tissue biomass peaked most often in the spring, the time lag implying a functional relationship between these variables. Corals living in shallow water often (but not always) had higher levels of all parameters measured compared to deeper corals, except chlorophyll a content, which usually displayed the opposite trend. The results show that corals from all depths exhibited bleaching (loss of symbiotic dinoflagellates and/or their pigments) every year, regardless of whether they appeared white, tan, or mottled to the human eye. We speculate that these patterns are driven by seasonal changes in light and temperature on algal and animal physiology. Furthermore, we hypothesize that all tropical reef-building corals, world-wide, exhibit similar predictable cycles in their tissue biomass and symbiotic algae.

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