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Light intensity, photoperiod duration, daily light flux and coral growth of Galaxea fascicularis in an aquarium setting: a matter of photons?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 July 2011

Miriam Schutter*
Aquaculture and Fisheries Group, Wageningen University, PO Box 338 6700 AH Wageningen, The Netherlands Bioprocess Engineering Group, Wageningen University, PO Box 8129, 6700 EV Wageningen, The Netherlands
Rosa M. van der Ven
Aquaculture and Fisheries Group, Wageningen University, PO Box 338 6700 AH Wageningen, The Netherlands
Max Janse
Burgers' Zoo, Antoon van Hooffplein 1, 6816 SH Arnhem, The Netherlands
Johan A.J. Verreth
Aquaculture and Fisheries Group, Wageningen University, PO Box 338 6700 AH Wageningen, The Netherlands
René H. Wijffels
Bioprocess Engineering Group, Wageningen University, PO Box 8129, 6700 EV Wageningen, The Netherlands
Ronald Osinga
Aquaculture and Fisheries Group, Wageningen University, PO Box 338 6700 AH Wageningen, The Netherlands
Correspondence should be addressed to: Miriam Schutter, Aquaculture and Fisheries Group Wageningen University, PO Box 338 6700 AH Wageningen, The Netherlands email:


Light is one of the most important abiotic factors influencing the (skeletal) growth of scleractinian corals. Light stimulates coral growth by the process of light-enhanced calcification, which is mediated by zooxanthellar photosynthesis. However, the quantity of light that is available for daily coral growth is not only determined by light intensity (i.e. irradiance), but also by photoperiod (i.e. the light duration time). Understanding and optimizing conditions for coral growth is essential for sustainable coral aquaculture. Therefore, in this study, the question was explored whether more light (i.e. more photons), presented either as irradiance or as light duration, would result in more growth. A series of nine genetically identical coral colonies of Galaxea fascicularis L. were cultured for a period of 18 weeks at different light duration times (8 hours 150 μE m−2 s−1:16 hours dark, 12 hours 150 μE m−2 s−1:12 hours dark, 16 hours 150 μE m−2 s−1:8 hours dark, 24 hours 150 μE m−2 s−1:0 hours dark) and different irradiance levels (8 hours 150 μE m−2 s−1:16 hours dark, 8 hours 225 μE m−2 s−1:16 hours dark and 8 hours 300 μE m−2 s−1:16 hours dark). Growth was determined every two weeks by measuring buoyant weight. Temperature, salinity and feeding levels were kept constant during the experiment. To detect possible acclimation of the corals to an increased light duration, rates of net photosynthesis and dark respiration were measured, hereby comparing coral colonies grown under an 8:16 hours light (150 μE m−2 s−1):dark cycle with corals grown under a 16:8 hours light (150 μE m−2 s−1):dark cycle. No increase in growth was detected with either increasing photoperiod or irradiance. Continuous lighting (24 hours 150 μE m−2 s−1:0 hours dark) resulted in immediate bleaching and the corals died after 14 weeks. Hourly photosynthetic rates were significantly reduced in the 16 hour light treatment compared to the 8 hour light treatment. As a result, daily net photosynthetic rates were not significantly different, which may explain the observed specific growth rates. Acclimation to photoperiod duration appeared neither to be mediated by changes in chlorophyll-a concentration nor zooxanthellae density. Based on the results of this study, we can conclude that the enhancing effect of light on coral growth is not only a matter of photons. Obviously, the availability of light was not limiting growth in these experiments and was probably in excess (i.e. stressful amounts). Other factors are discussed that play a role in determining growth rates and might explain our results.

Research Article
Copyright © Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom 2011

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