Availability of two forms of dissolved nitrogen to the coral Pocillopora damicornis and its symbiotic zooxanthellae

O. Hoegh-Guldberg*, J. Williamson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

63 Citations (Scopus)


The relative contribution of dissolved nitrogen (ammonium and dissolved free amino acids DFAAs) to the nitrogen budget of the reef-building coral Pocillopora damicornis was assessed for colonies growing on control and ammonium-enriched reefs at One Tree Island (southern Great Barrier Reef) during the ENCORE (Enrichment of Nutrient on Coral Reef; 1993 to 1996) project. P. damicornis acquired ammonium at rates of between 5.1 and 91.8 nmol N cm-2 h-1 which were not affected by nutrient treatment except in the case of one morph. In this case, uptake rates decreased from 80.5 to 42.8 nmol cm-2 h-1 (P < 0.05) on exposure to elevated ammonium over 12 mo. The presence or absence of light during measurement did not influence the uptake of ammonium ions. Nitrogen budgets revealed that the uptake of ammonium from concentrations of 0.11 to 0.13 μM could completely satisfy the demand of growing P. damicornis for new nitrogen. P. damicornis also took up DFAAs at rates ranging from 4.9 to 9.8 nmol N cm-2 h-1. These rates were higher in the dark than in the light (9.0 vs 5.1 nmol m-2 h-1, P < 0.001). Uptake rates were highest for the amino acids serine, arginine and alanine, and lowest for tyrosine. DFAA concentrations within the ENCORE microatolls that received ammonium were undetectable, whereas they ranged up to 100 nM within the control microatolls. The contribution of DFAAs to the nitrogen budget of P. damicornis constituted only a small fraction of the nitrogen potentially contributed by ammonium under field conditions. Even at the highest field concentrations measured during this study, DFAAs could contribute only ≃11.3% of the nitrogen demand of P. damicornis. This contribution; however, may be an important source of nitrogen when other sources such as ammonium are scarce or during periods when high concentrations of DFAAs become sporadically available (e.g. cell breakage during fish-grazing).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)561-570
Number of pages10
JournalMarine Biology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Apr 1999
Externally publishedYes


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