• Coral reefs;
  • endolithic phototrophs;
  • epilithic phototrophs;
  • Hawaii, primary production;
  • shoreward–seaward transect

To quantify the contribution of endolithic phototrophs to primary production of dead carbonate substrates, experimental blocks of cleaned Porites lobata Dana skeleton were placed at three different sites in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii: inshore, lagoonal, and oceanic. After 6 months of exposure, experimental blocks were colonized by communities characteristic of their estuarine (inshore, lagoonal) and oceanic (ocean) environments. Blocks were sub-sampled; net photosynthesis (NP) and chl a concentrations of the whole blocks (epi- and endoliths) and scrapped blocks (only endoliths) were quantified. Green turf algae colonized predominantly inshore and lagoonal blocks, while encrusting corallines were the dominant epiliths colonizing oceanic blocks. Four main species of endolithic phototrophs were identified in all blocks: Mastigocoleus testarum Lagerheim, Plectonema terebrans Bornet and Flahault (cyanobacteria), Phaeophila dendroides Crouan and Crouan, and Ostreobium quekettii Bornet and Flahault (Chlorophytes). While epiliths were very different between sites, NP rates and chl a concentration of endoliths did not vary significantly and were positively correlated (191±25 mmol C·m−2·day−1 and 590±150 mg chl a·m−2 of reef, respectively). Assimilation numbers for whole communities, including both epilithic and endolithic communities, were similar to those measured for endolithic communities alone (average of 0.3 g C·g chl a·h−1). Under experimental conditions, the contribution of endolithic phototrophs to community NP rates of blocks ranged from 56% to 81%, and under natural conditions, we estimated that this contribution ranged between 32% and 46%. Thus, we showed that the endolithic phototrophs are one of the major primary producers in dead coral substrates in a wide range of coral reef environments.