Warming and nutrient limitation are stressors known to weaken the health of microalgae. In situations of stress, access to energy reserves can minimize physiological damage. Because of its widespread requirements in biochemical processes, iron is an important trace metal, especially for photosynthetic organisms. Lowered iron availability in oceans experiencing rising temperatures may contribute to the thermal sensitivity of reef-building corals, which rely on mutualisms with dinoflagellates to survive. To test the influence of iron concentration on thermal sensitivity, the physiological responses of cultured symbiotic dinoflagellates (genus Breviolum; family Symbiodiniaceae) were evaluated when exposed to increasing temperatures (26 to 30°C) and iron concentrations ranging from replete (500 pM Fe’) to limiting (50 pM Fe’) under a diurnal light cycle with saturating radiance. Declines in photosynthetic efficiency at elevated temperatures indicated sensitivity to heat stress. Furthermore, five times the amount of iron was needed to reach exponential growth during heat stress (50 pM Fe′ at 26–28°C vs. 250 pM Fe′ at 30°C). In treatments where exponential growth was reached, Breviolum psygmophilum grew faster than B.minutum, possibly due to greater cellular contents of iron and other trace metals. The metal composition of B.psygmophilum shifted only at the highest temperature (30°C), whereas changes in B.minutum were observed at lower temperatures (28°C). The influence of iron availability in modulating each alga’s response to thermal stress suggests the importance of trace metals to the health of coral-algal mutualisms. Ultimately, a greater ability to acquire scarce metals may improve the tolerance of corals to physiological stressors and contribute to the differences in performance associated with hosting one symbiont species over another.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Aquatic Science
- Plant Science