Although coral calcification is directly related to coral health, few studies have examined the responses of coral calcification to environmental stresses, with the exception of ocean acidification. In this study, we experimentally exposed aposymbiotic (lacking symbionts) and symbiotic primary polyps of the scleractinian coral . Acropora digitifera to several seawater temperatures (27, 29, 31, and 33. °C) and salinities (26, 28, 30, 32, and 34) to investigate the effects of thermal and freshening stresses on coral calcification from the standpoint of coral-algal symbiosis. Calcification rates were higher for symbiotic versus aposymbiotic polyps in both sets of experiments, except for those reared at 31. °C and 33. °C. Calcification responses of symbiotic polyps were a non-linear function of temperature, and the threshold temperature affecting skeletal growth and bleaching was between 29. °C and 31. °C. Calcification rates of aposymbiotic polyps were also a non-linear function of temperature, with a maximum polyp weight at 31. °C, suggesting that thermal stress also did some damage to the coral host itself. In contrast, skeletal growth of both aposymbiotic and symbiotic polyps decreased linearly with increased salinity. Observations of the microstructure of polyp samples revealed a clearly cyclic feature of skeletal surfaces that was likely related to organo-mineral deposition of calcium carbonate even under lowered-salinity conditions. However, neither type of polyp reared at 33. °C evidenced this characteristic, suggesting that thermal stress had compromised the normal calcification process, which involves secretion of an organic matrix by the coral host. Our results suggest that the effects of future global warming will include a reduction in coral calcification itself and the collapse of coral-algal symbiosis, at least at the primary polyp stage. The present experiments showed that thermal stress would affect the host's physiological functionality, whereas freshening stress, which is simply the dilution of ambient seawater, would affect the mineralization process associated with coral calcification.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Global and Planetary Change