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Bleaching response of corals and their Symbiodinium communities in southern Africa
Sebastian, C.R.; Sink, K.J.; McClanahan, T.R.; Cowan, D.A. (2009). Bleaching response of corals and their Symbiodinium communities in southern Africa. Mar. Biol. (Berl.) 156(10): 2049-2062.
In: Marine Biology. Springer: Heidelberg; Berlin. ISSN 0025-3162; e-ISSN 1432-1793, more
Peer reviewed article  

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  • Sebastian, C.R.
  • Sink, K.J.
  • McClanahan, T.R.
  • Cowan, D.A.

    The high-latitude coral communities of southern Africa suffered minimal impacts during past mass bleaching events. Recent reports indicate an increase in bleaching frequency during the last decade, yet the actual levels of thermal stress and contributing factors in these bleaching events, and the degree of acclimatisation or adaptation on these reefs are poorly understood. During the 2005 warm-water anomaly in the southern Indian Ocean we conducted bleaching surveys and collected samples for genotyping of the algal symbiont communities at 21 sites in southern Mozambique and South Africa. Coral bleaching reached unprecedented levels and was negatively correlated with both latitude and water depths. Stylophora pistillata and Montipora were the most susceptible taxa, whereas three common branching corals had significantly different bleaching responses (Stylophora > Acropora > Pocillopora). Temperature records indicated that localised strong upwelling events coupled with persistent above-average seawater temperatures may result in accumulated thermal stress leading to bleaching. Symbiodinium in 139 scleractinian corals belonged almost exclusively to clade C, with clade D symbionts present in only 3% of the colonies. Two atypical C subclades were present in Stylophora and Pocillopora colonies and these were more abundant in shallow than deeper sites. Taxon-specific differences in bleaching responses were unrelated to different clades of algal symbionts and suggest that Symbiodinium C subtypes with diverse thermal tolerance, coupled with acclimatisation and morphology of the host colony influence the bleaching response. Additionally, the predominance of putatively thermal-sensitive Symbiodinium in southern African corals may reflect a limited experience of bleaching and emphasises the vulnerability of these reefs to moderate levels of thermal stress.

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