Bleaching in foraminifera with algal symbionts: implications for reef monitoring and risk asessment

Pamela Hallock, D. E Williams, E. M Fisher, S. K Toler


Reef-dwelling larger foraminifers share key characteristics with reefbuilding corals: they are prolific producers of calcium carbonate, they are physiologically dependent upon algal endosymbionts, and representatives of both groups have suffered bleaching episodes in recent decades. Since 1991, bleaching has been observed in populations of Amphistegina in all subtropical oceans, with peak bleaching in 1992 and secondary peaks in 1998 and 2005. Amphistegina populations exhibiting chronic, intermediate-intensity bleaching characteristically show anomalously high incidences of shell breakage, shell deformities, evidence of predation, and microbial infestation. Asexual reproduction is profoundly affected; broods from partly bleached parents typically have fewer individuals, many of which are anomalous in shape and size. Key differences between bleaching in corals and Amphistegina are that corals typically bleach by expelling their symbionts, while Amphistegina bleach when damaged symbionts are digested, and that mass coral bleaching requires high light but correlates most consistently with elevated temperatures, while bleaching in Amphistegina is induced by light. Amphistegina are particularly sensitive to the shorter (300-490 nm) wavelengths of solar radiation, which have increased in intensity relative to longer visible wavelengths (>;490-700 nm) in clear reef waters over the past 30 years as a consequence of stratospheric ozone depletion. Abundances and visual assessments of Amphistegina populations can be used as a low-cost risk-assessment tool. These protists are sensitive to environmental conditions over days to weeks, and provide a method to quickly distinguish between water quality (local) and photo-oxidative (global) stresses. Risk assessments based on the combined use of in situ measurements and low-cost indicators can provide resource managers with essential information to decide when more costly chemical or molecular procedures are needed to determine local sources of stress.

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