Energetic responses of zooxanthellate reef corals along depth gradients have relevance to the refugia potential of mesophotic coral ecosystems (MCEs). Previous observations suggested that MCEs in the Caribbean are thermally buffered during the warmest parts of the year and occur within or just below the chlorophyll maximum, suggesting abundant trophic resources. However, it is not known if mesophotic corals can maintain constant energy needs throughout the year with changing environmental and biological conditions. The energetic content of tissues from the stony coral species Orbicella faveolata and Agaricia lamarcki was measured on the southern insular shelf of St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands (USVI), using micro-bomb calorimetry. Three sites for each species, at depths of 6m, 25m, 38m and 63m, were selected to capture energetic differences across the major vertical range extent of both species in the USVI—and sampled over five periods from April 2013 to April 2014. Mesophotic colonies of O. faveolata exhibited a significant reduction in energetic content during the month of September 2013 compared to mid-depth and shallow colonies (p = 0.032), whereas A. lamarcki experienced similar energetic variability, but with a significant reduction in energy content that occurred in July 2013 for colonies at sites deeper than 25m (p = 0.014). The results of calorimetric analyses indicate that O. faveolata may be at risk during late summer stress events, possibly due to the timing of reproductive activities.The low-point of A.lamarcki energy content, which may also coincide with reproduction,occurs prior to seasonal stress events, indicating contrasting, species-specific responses to environmental variability on MCEs.
Scleractinia (Hard Corals)
US Virgin Islands
SCUBA (open-circuit or unspecified)