Many marine invertebrates provide their offspring with symbionts. Yet the consequences of maternally inherited symbionts on larval fitness remain largely unexplored. In the stony coral Favia fragum (Esper 1797), mothers produce larvae with highly variable amounts of endosymbiotic algae, and we examined the implications of this variation in symbiont density on the performance of F. fragum larvae under different environmental scenarios. High symbiont densities prolonged the period that larvae actively swam and searched for suitable settlement habitats. Thermal stress reduced survival and settlement success in F. fragum larvae, whereby larvae with high symbiont densities suffered more from non-lethal stress and were five times more likely to die compared with larvae with low symbiont densities. These results show that maternally inherited algal symbionts can be either beneficial or harmful to coral larvae depending on the environmental conditions at hand, and suggest that F. fragum mothers use a bet-hedging strategy to minimize risks associated with spatio-temporal variability in their offspring's environment.
Background: Rapid determination of which nutrients limit the primary production of macroalgae and seagrasses is vital for understanding the impacts of eutrophication on marine and freshwater ecosystems. However, current methods to assess nutrient limitation are often cumbersome and time consuming. For phytoplankton, a rapid method has been described based on short-term changes in chlorophyll fluorescence upon nutrient addition, also known as Nutrient-Induced Fluorescence Transients (NIFTs). Thus far, though, the NIFT technique was not well suited for macroalgae and seagrasses.
Methodology & Principal Findings: We developed a new experimental setup so that the NIFT technique can be used to assess nutrient limitation of benthic macroalgae and seagrasses. We first tested the applicability of the technique on sea lettuce (Ulva lactuca) cultured in the laboratory on nutrient-enriched medium without either nitrogen or phosphorus. Addition of the limiting nutrient resulted in a characteristic change in the fluorescence signal, whereas addition of non- limiting nutrients did not yield a response. Next, we applied the NIFT technique to field samples of the encrusting fan-leaf alga Lobophora variegata, one of the key algal species often involved in the degradation of coral reef ecosystems. The results pointed at co-limitation of L. variegata by phosphorus and nitrogen, although it responded more strongly to phosphate than to nitrate and ammonium addition. For turtle grass (Thalassia testudinum) we found the opposite result, with a stronger NIFT response to nitrate and ammonium than to phosphate.
Conclusions & Significance: Our extension of the NIFT technique offers an easy and fast method (30–60 min per sample) to determine nutrient limitation of macroalgae and seagrasses. We successfully applied this technique to macroalgae on coral reef ecosystems and to seagrass in a tropical inner bay, and foresee wider application to other aquatic plants, and to other marine and freshwater ecosystems.