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Stable Isotopes (δ 13 C and δ 15 N) of Organic Matrix from Coral Skeleton

Leonard Muscatine, Claire Goiran, Lynton Land, Jean Jaubert, Jean-Pierre Cuif, Denis Allemand and Daniel L. McFadden
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Vol. 102, No. 5 (Feb. 1, 2005), pp. 1525-1530
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3374464
Page Count: 6
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Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We'll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.
Stable Isotopes (δ 13 C and δ 15 N) of Organic Matrix from Coral Skeleton
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Abstract

The evolutionary success of reef-building corals in nutrient-poor tropical waters is attributed to endosymbiotic dinoflagellates. The algae release photosynthetic products to the coral animal cells, augment nutrient flux, and enhance the rate of coral calcification. Natural abundance of stable isotopes (δ 13 C and δ 18 O) provides answers to modern and paleobiological questions about the effect of photosymbiosis on sources of carbon and oxygen in coral skeletal calcium carbonate. Here we compare 17 species of symbiotic and nonsymbiotic corals to determine whether evidence for photosymbiosis appears in stable isotopes (δ 13 C and δ 15 N) of an organic skeletal compartment, the coral skeletal organic matrix (OM). Mean OM δ 13 C in symbiotic and nonsymbiotic corals was similar (-26.08‰ vs. -24.31‰), but mean OM δ 15 N was significantly depleted in 15 N in the former (4.09‰) relative to the latter (12.28‰), indicating an effect of the algae on OM synthesis and revealing OM δ 15 N as a proxy for photosymbiosis. To answer an important paleobiological question about the origin of photosymbiosis in reef-building corals, we applied this proxy test to a fossil coral (Pachythecalis major) from the Triassic (240 million years ago) in which OM is preserved. Mean OM δ 15 N was 4.66‰, suggesting that P. major was photosymbiotic. The results show that symbiotic algae augment coral calcification by contributing to the synthesis of skeletal OM and that they may have done so as early as the Triassic.

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