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Autotrophic carbon budget in coral tissue: a new 13C-based model of photosynthate translocation

Abstract : Corals live in symbiosis with dinoflagellates of the genus Symbiodinum. These dinoflagellates translocate a large part of the photosynthetically fixed carbon to the host, which in turn uses it for its own needs. Assessing the carbon budget in coral tissue is a central question in reef studies that still vexes ecophysiologists. The amount of carbon fixed by the symbiotic association can be determined by measuring the rate of photosynthesis, but the amount of carbon translocated by the symbionts to the host and the fate of this carbon are more difficult to assess. In the present study, we propose a novel approach to calculate the budget of autotrophic carbon in the tissue of scleractinian corals, based on a new model and measurements made with the stable isotope C-13. Colonies of the scleractinian coral Stylophora pistillata were incubated in (HCO3-)-C-13-enriched seawater, after which the fate of C-13 was followed in the symbionts, the coral tissue and the released particulate organic carbon (i.e. mucus). Results obtained showed that after 15. min, ca. 60% of the carbon fixed was already translocated to the host, and after 48. h, this value reached 78%. However, ca. 48% of the photosynthetically fixed carbon was respired by the symbiotic association, and 28% was released as dissolved organic carbon. This is different from other coral species, where <1% of the total organic carbon released is from newly fixed carbon. Only 23% of the initially fixed carbon was retained in the symbionts and coral tissue after 48. h. Results show that our C-13-based model could successfully trace the carbon flow from the symbionts to the host, and the photosynthetically acquired carbon lost from the symbiotic association.
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Submitted on : Thursday, May 24, 2012 - 1:56:34 PM
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Pascale Tremblay, Renaud Grover, Jean-François Maguer, Louis Legendre, Christine Ferrier-Pages. Autotrophic carbon budget in coral tissue: a new 13C-based model of photosynthate translocation. Journal of Experimental Biology, 2012, 215 (8), pp.1384-1393. ⟨10.1242/jeb.065201⟩. ⟨hal-00700978⟩



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