Relative Pigment Composition and Remote Sensing Reflectance of Caribbean Shallow-Water Corals

PLoS One. 2015 Nov 30;10(11):e0143709. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0143709. eCollection 2015.


Reef corals typically contain a number of pigments, mostly due to their symbiotic relationship with photosynthetic dinoflagellates. These pigments usually vary in presence and concentration and influence the spectral characteristics of corals. We studied the variations in pigment composition among seven Caribbean shallow-water Scleractinian corals by means of High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) analysis to further resolve the discrimination of corals. We found a total of 27 different pigments among the coral species, including some alteration products of the main pigments. Additionally, pigments typically found in endolithic algae were also identified. A Principal Components Analysis and a Hierarchical Cluster Analysis showed the separation of coral species based on pigment composition. All the corals were collected under the same physical environmental conditions. This suggests that pigment in the coral's symbionts might be more genetically-determined than influenced by prevailing physical conditions of the reef. We further investigated the use of remote sensing reflectance (Rrs) as a tool for estimating the total pigment concentration of reef corals. Depending on the coral species, the Rrs and the total symbiont pigment concentration per coral tissue area correlation showed 79.5-98.5% confidence levels demonstrating its use as a non-invasive robust technique to estimate pigment concentration in studies of coral reef biodiversity and health.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anthozoa / classification
  • Anthozoa / genetics
  • Anthozoa / metabolism*
  • Caribbean Region
  • Pigments, Biological / chemistry*
  • Pigments, Biological / genetics
  • Remote Sensing Technology
  • Spectrum Analysis


  • Pigments, Biological

Grants and funding

JLTP was funded under the NASA Postdoctoral Program (NNH06CC03B) during part of this study.