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Spatial variation in the biochemical and isotopic composition of corals during bleaching and recovery
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    Limnol Oceanogr. 2019 Sep; 64(5): 2011–2028.
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Spatial variation in the biochemical and isotopic composition of corals during bleaching and recovery
  • Description:
    Ocean warming and the increased prevalence of coral bleaching events threaten coral reefs. However, the biology of corals during and following bleaching events under field conditions is poorly understood. We examined bleaching and postbleaching recovery in Montipora capitata and Porites compressa corals that either bleached or did not bleach during a 2014 bleaching event at three reef locations in Kāne‘ohe Bay, O‘ahu, Hawai‘i. We measured changes in chlorophylls, tissue biomass, and nutritional plasticity using stable isotopes (δ13C, δ15N). Coral traits showed significant variation among periods, sites, bleaching conditions, and their interactions. Bleached colonies of both species had lower chlorophyll and total biomass, and while M. capitata chlorophyll and biomass recovered 3 months later, P. compressa chlorophyll recovery was location dependent and total biomass of previously bleached colonies remained low. Biomass energy reserves were not affected by bleaching, instead M. capitata proteins and P. compressa biomass energy and lipids declined over time and P. compressa lipids were site specific during bleaching recovery. Stable isotope analyses did not indicate increased heterotrophic nutrition in bleached colonies of either species, during or after thermal stress. Instead, mass balance calculations revealed that variations in δ13C values reflect biomass compositional change (i.e., protein : lipid : carbohydrate ratios). Observed δ15N values reflected spatiotemporal variability in nitrogen sources in both species and bleaching effects on symbiont nitrogen demand in P. compressa. These results highlight the dynamic responses of corals to natural bleaching and recovery and identify the need to consider the influence of biomass composition in the interpretation of isotopic values in corals.
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