Photophysiology and daily primary production of a temperate symbiotic gorgonian

Photosynth Res. 2015 Jan;123(1):95-104. doi: 10.1007/s11120-014-0042-4. Epub 2014 Sep 26.


Gorgonians are one of the most important benthic components of tropical and temperate areas, and play a fundamental role as ecosystem engineers. Although global warming and pollution increasingly threaten them, the acquisition of nutrients, which is a key process in fitness and stress resistance, has been poorly investigated in such species. This study has thus used an advanced in situ incubation chamber for the first time with gorgonians, to assess the daily acquisition of nutrients and the photophysiology of the Mediterranean symbiotic species, Eunicella singularis. The xanthophyll cycle was assessed in parallel. This work has revealed that E. singularis presents a different functioning than the Mediterranean symbiotic corals. This gorgonian indeed relies on both autotrophy and heterotrophy in summer to optimize its energetic budget, while corals mainly shift to autotrophy for their respiratory needs and tissue growth. In addition, although E. singularis lives in the same depths/locations, and harbours the same symbiont genotype than the corals, the photosynthetic performances of their respective symbionts are significantly different. Indeed, E. singularis acquired 2-3 times less autotrophic carbon from its symbionts than corals, but maintained a positive carbon budget by reducing respiration rates, and by presenting maximal photosynthetic rates throughout the day, suggesting a very efficient light utilization. Almost no photoinhibition was observed under very high light levels, because of the induction of a xanthophyll photoprotection process. These results help understanding why gorgonians often dominate many benthic ecosystems.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anthozoa / physiology*
  • Mediterranean Sea
  • Oxygen / metabolism
  • Photosynthesis / physiology*
  • Symbiosis*
  • Temperature
  • Xanthophylls / physiology


  • Xanthophylls
  • Oxygen