Photosynthetic impact of hypoxia on in hospite zooxanthellae in the scleractinian coral Pocillopora damicornis

Karin E. Ulstrup, Ross Hill, Peter J. Ralph*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Citations (Scopus)


Shallow water coral reefs may experience hypoxia under conditions of calm weather doldrums. Anaerobic responses of endosymbionts (i.e. zooxanthellae) within Pocillopora damicornis coral colonies were tested using both slow and fast chlorophyll a fluorescence induction kinetics. Zooxanthellae were examined in hospite when exposed to control conditions (26°C, 200 μmol photons m-2 s-1, 100% air-saturation, 4 cm s-1 flow) and to 2 treatments of reduced air content (40 and 0%), achieved by controlling the N2:O2 ratio in water circulating at 2 cm s -1. Furthermore, the impact of water flow on photosynthesis was examined at 0% air saturation by turning off the flow entirely (0 cm s -1), thereby mimicking the environmental conditions of calm weather doldrums. Corals exposed to depleted air content (0 % with and without flow) showed a significant decrease (p < 0.001) in effective quantum yield (φPSII) in comparison with controls. Maximum quantum yield was significantly reduced when gas exchange was inhibited (0% without flow), whereas non-photochemical quenching (NPQ) was not affected. Fast polyphasic fluorescence transients of chlorophyll a fluorescence showed a significant increase in minimum dark-adapted fluorescence, F0, when corals were exposed to anaerobic conditions. Furthermore, an increase in the J peak (2 ms) corresponding to the reduction of the primary electron acceptor, QA, was observed in 0% air-saturation with flow. We found that the most sensitive parameters for detecting physiological change associated with hypoxia were φPSII using slow (pulse-amplitude modulation) fluorescence kinetics, as well as an increase in the O peak, φPo(electron transport efficiency before QA), and an elevation of the J peak on a double-normalised transient using fast (Plant Efficiency Analyser) induction kinetics.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)125-132
Number of pages8
JournalMarine Ecology Progress Series
Publication statusPublished - 2 Feb 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Fast-induction kinetics
  • Fluorescence
  • Photosystem II
  • PSII
  • Pulse-amplitude modulation


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