The Response of the Mediterranean Gorgonian Eunicella singularis to Thermal Stress Is Independent of Its Nutritional Regime
Over the last few decades, sessile benthic organisms from the Mediterranean Sea have suffered from the global warming of the world's oceans, and several mass mortality events were observed during warm summers. It has been hypothesized that mortality could have been due to a nutrient (food) shortage following the stratification of the water column. However, the symbiotic gorgonian Eunicella singularis has also presented a locally exceptional mortality, despite its autotrophic capacities through the photosynthesis of its dinoflagellate symbionts. Thus, this study has experimentally investigated the response of E. singularis to a thermal stress (temperature increase from 18 to 26 degrees C), with colonies maintained more than 2 months under four nutritional diets: autotrophy only (AO), autotrophy and inorganic nitrogen addition (AN), autotrophy and heterotrophy (AH), heterotrophy only (HO). At 18 degrees C, and contrary to many other anthozoans, supplementation of autotrophy with either inorganic nitrogen or food (heterotrophy) had no effect on the rates of respiration, photosynthesis, as well as in the chlorophyll, lipid and protein content. In the dark, heterotrophy maintained the gorgonian's metabolism, except a bleaching (loss of pigments), which did not affect the rates of photosynthesis. At 24 degrees C, rates of respiration, and photosynthesis significantly decreased in all treatments. At 26 degrees C, in addition to a decrease in the lipid content of all treatments, a bleaching was observed after 1 week in the AO treatment, while the AH and AN treatments resisted three weeks before bleaching. These last results suggest that, temperatures above 24 degrees C impair the energetic reserves of this species and might explain the mortality events in the Mediterranean.