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Title: Plasticity & adaptations of the coral-zooxanthellae symbiosis : responses to nutrient availability & insight into inherent thermal tolerance
Author: Rosset, Sabrina Laura
ISNI:       0000 0004 5990 8654
Awarding Body: University of Southampton
Current Institution: University of Southampton
Date of Award: 2016
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Sustaining an environment which conveys a high resilience to reef corals is critical in order to mitigate the immediate threat of climate change to reef ecosystems. The nutrient environment plays a significant role in sustaining the stability of the coral-zooxanthellae symbiosis, making anthropogenic nutrient pollution as well as the climate change driven nutrient impoverishment of oceanic waters pressing threats to coral reef persistence. Yet, many aspects of coral nutrient biology remain poorly understood, impeding science driven management strategies. This thesis aimed to advance our knowledge on how different nutrient environments affect the functioning of the coral-algal symbiosis by teasing apart the interacting effects of two principal nutrient sources (dissolved inorganic nutrient uptake and heterotrophic feeding), as well as of the two essential nutrients, nitrogen and phosphorus, both in dissolved inorganic and particulate organic forms. This was achieved through long-term exposure (up to 1.5 years) of the Euphyllia paradivisa-clade C1 Symbiodinium association to replete (+N+P), limited (-N-P), or imbalanced (+N-P/-N+P) dissolved inorganic nutrient availabilities in combination with targeted host feeding with balanced or nitrogen enriched prey items. Thereby, this work stood apart from past investigations by yielding definitive phenotypes representative of different nutrient availabilities. Moreover, the importance of food quality when considering the benefit of heterotrophy to reef corals had previously been overlooked. Findings suggest that heterotrophy provides a greater benefit to the coral host than to the symbiont and is unable to compensate for diminished dissolved inorganic nutrient availability, demonstrating a significantly greater dependence of the symbiosis to the latter nutrient source. A balanced N/P ratio, both in dissolved inorganic and particulate organic form, was shown to be essential for the stability of the symbiosis and for the nutritional benefit provided by heterotrophy. Particularly nitrogen enrichment resulted in severe nutrient stress and compromised thermal stress resilience, implying a vital reliance on a continued supply of phosphorus and emphasising the necessity of managing nitrogen pollution and monitoring N/P ratios. Zooxanthellae ultrastructural biomarkers established in this thesis (cell size, lipid body, starch granule and uric acid crystal accumulation, accumulation body fragmentation) hold potential for the aid in the identification of, and discrimination between different forms of nutrient stress in reef corals. Yet, ultimately corals need to adapt to warmer oceans. Diverse Symbiodinium genotypes convey varied thermal tolerance to their coral host. Yet, the mechanisms underpinning their thermal sensitivity remain largely elusive. The second aim of this thesis was to examine the role played by the algal membrane composition. The intact polar lipid biochemistry of a thermally-sensitive (clade C) and -tolerant (clade D) type were characterised by HPLC-ESI tandem mass spectrometry. Distinctions in chloroplast membrane composition could be related to differential inherent thermal tolerance. Moreover, vast differences in the lipid biochemistry of extraplastidic membranes were identified, exemplifying unprecedented metabolic differences among Symbiodinium clades. Biochemical markers of a thermally tolerant phenotype (MGDG/DGDG ratio, glycolipid saturation) could advance our understanding and projections of the potential of reef corals to acclimate and adapt to future climate change scenarios.
Supervisor: Wiedenmann, Joerg Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available