The physiological response of reef corals to diel fluctuations in seawater temperature.
Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology
An opportunity to explore the effects of fluctuating temperatures on tropical scleractinian corals arose when diurnal warming (as large as 4.7 °C) was detected over the rich coral communities found within the back reef of Moorea, French Polynesia. In April and May 2007, experiments were completed to determine the effects of fluctuating temperature on Pocillopora meandrina and Porites rus, and consecutive trials were used to expose them for 13 days to 26 °C, 28 °C (ambient conditions), 30 °C, or a fluctuating treatment ranging from26 to 30 °C over 24 h. The multivariate response was assessed using maximum dark-adapted quantum yield of PSII (FV/FM), Symbiodinium density, chlorophyll-a content, and calcification. In trial 1, multivariate physiology of both species was significantly affected by treatments, with the fluctuating temperature resulting in a 17–45% decline in Symbiodinium density (relative to the ambient) matching that occurring at a constant 30 °C; FV/FM, chlorophyll-a content, and calcification, did not differ between the fluctuating and the steady treatments. In contrast, in trial 2 that utilized corals collected two weeks after those used in trial 1, the corals were unaffected by the treatments, likely due to an environment×trial interaction caused by seasonal declines in Symbiodinium density. Together, these results demonstrate that short transgressions to ecologically relevant high and low temperatures can elicit a potentially detrimental response equivalent to that occurring upon exposure to a constant high temperature. The dissimilar responses among dependent variables and consecutive trials underscore the importance of temporal replication andmultivariate approaches in coral ecophysiology. It is likely that recent history has a stronger effect on the response of corals to treatments than is currently recognized.