Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department

Marine Science

Major Professor

Pamela Hallock Muller, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Kendra Daly, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Erinn Muller, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Michael Parsons, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Bill Richardson, Ph.D.


Amphistegina gibbosa, bioindicators, bleaching, coral reefs, foraminifera, PAM fluorometry


Photo-oxidative stress is one of the key factors that can induce bleaching in reef organisms. With the decline of coral reefs and recurrent bleaching events, many studies have focused on understanding the mechanism behind this phenomenon. Two of the hypotheses that explain how the photosynthetic performance of the symbiont is affected and influences bleaching are: (1) disruption of the photosynthetic pathway by direct damage to the photosystem II (PSII), and (2) by inhibition of the Calvin-Benson cycle. In this dissertation I examine different aspects of photosynthetic performance in symbiont-bearing reef organisms and how this is influenced by symbiont loss and changes in photic stress as a result of different levels of irradiance modulated by time of the year (e.g., season) and depth; and take a closer look into primary productivity by symbionts with controlled laboratory experiments.

Field experiments during 2012–2013 at Tennessee Reef, FL, assessed the photosynthetic performance of PSII in the diatom-bearing foraminifer, Amphistegina gibbosa, and the anthozoans: Palythoa cariabeorum, Siderastrea siderea, and Montastraea cavernosa. Data collected for the bleaching trends of A. gibbosa revealed that bleaching rates are higher in the summer months than in winter. Photochemical efficiencies of PSII in A. gibbosa, as measured with PAM fluorometry on the day of collection, were more variable in the shallow site (6 m) than in the deeper site (18 m). Also, photochemical efficiencies at the shallow site were lower during the summer months than during winter months. At the 18 m site, photochemical efficiencies did not exhibit a clear seasonal trend. Depth also had an effect on the measured photochemical efficiencies of the anthozoans. Photochemical efficiencies were lower and more variable in colonies at 6 m compared to colonies from 18 m. Although previous studies have reported seasonal effects on the photochemical efficiency of some coral colonies, that trend was not apparent in this study.

Photoacclimation and productivity were assessed for A. gibbosa using rapid light curves (RLC) and photosynthesis vs. irradiance curves (P-E). Maximum relative electron transport rate (rETRmax) as described by RLCs was significantly different between A. gibbosa without visual signs of bleaching and those with severe bleaching. Individuals with partial bleaching had a rETRmax that was intermediate between the other two categories. The P-E curves showed a similar trend. In this case individuals that were non- or partly bleached had significantly higher photosynthesis maxima than those with severe bleaching. The onsets of photosynthesis and saturation irradiance were not significantly different among the categories of bleaching analyzed. Results from this dissertation suggest that A. gibbosa has the capability to detect and digest damaged symbionts, that the symbionts even in the deeper chambers react in a similar way to irradiance, but that in severe cases of bleaching the symbionts may not produce enough energy to sustain the requirements of the host, even in non-stressful conditions.