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Caribbean gorgonian octocorals cope with nutrient enrichment

Mark McCauley, Tamar L Goulet
Marine Pollution Bulletin 2019, 141: 621-628
Corals inhabit oligotrophic waters, thriving amidst limited nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous. When nutrient levels increase, usually due to human activity, the symbiosis of dinoflagellates (family Symbiodiniaceae) with scleractinian corals can break down. Although gorgonian corals dominate many Caribbean reefs, the impact of enrichment on them and their algae is understudied. We exposed two gorgonian species, Pseudoplexaura porosa and Eunicea tourneforti, to elevated concentrations of either ammonium (10 μM or 50 μM) or phosphate (4 μM). Enrichment with 10 μM ammonium increased chlorophyll content and algal density in both species, whereas the host biochemical composition was unaffected. Exposure to 50 μM ammonium only reduced the quantum yield in P. porosa and mitotic indices in both species. Conversely, algal carbon and nitrogen content within E. tourneforti increased with 4 μM phosphate exposure. These gorgonian species coped with short-term nutrient enrichment, furthering our understanding of the success of Caribbean gorgonians.


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