• absorption;
  • chlorophyll fluorescence;
  • coral bleaching;
  • D1 protein;
  • growth;
  • photoacclimation;
  • photoinhibition;
  • photosystem II;
  • Symbiodinium;
  • zooxanthellae

The capacity for photoacclimation to light at 100 or 600 μmol photons·m−2·s−1 and the subsequent response to thermal stress was examined in four genetically distinct cultures of symbiotic dinoflagellates in the genus Symbiodinium with the ITS2 designations A1, A1.1, B1, and F2. While all algal types showed typical signs of photoacclimation to high light via a reduction in chl a, there was a differential response in cellular growth, photosystem II (PSII) activity, and the chl a-specific absorption coefficient between cultures. When maintained at 32°C for up to 10 days, significant variation in the susceptibility to thermal stress was observed in the rate of loss in PSII activity and electron transport, PSII reaction center degradation, and cellular growth. The order of thermal tolerance did not change between the two light levels. However, as expected, loss in photosynthetic function was exacerbated in the thermally sensitive phylotypes (B1 and A1.1) when acclimated to the higher light intensity. There was no consistent relationship between thermal tolerance and changes in light energy dissipation via non-photochemical pathways. Phylotypes F2 and A1 showed a high degree of thermal tolerance, yet the cellular responses to light and temperature were markedly different between these algae. The F2 isolate showed the greatest capacity for photoacclimation and growth at high light and temperature, while the A1 isolate appeared to adjust to thermal stress by a slight decline in PSII activity and a significant decline in growth, possibly at the expense of increased photosystem and cellular repair rates.