Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Virginia Institute of Marine Science


Mark R. Patterson

Committee Member

John D. Boon


Lipid quality was evaluated in Montastrea spp. under sediment- and heat-stressed conditions to evaluate lipid ratio as an indicator of sub-lethal stress on short time scales. The ratio of storage lipid (wax ester + triacylglyceride) to structural lipid (sterol esters + phospholipid) decreased significantly (0.25 to 0.14, p < 0.01) after experimental sedimentation. FAME analysis of colonies exposed to experimental sedimentation showed a reduction of the algal, 18:3(n-6) and 18:4(n-3), polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) in the polar lipid fraction. This loss of PUFA suggests a loss of algal membrane in sediment-stressed colonies. Lipid quality was similarly measured in M. faveolata over a 10-day period. Mean (n = 20) ratio of storage to structural lipid in M. faveolata dropped from 2.43 to a level of 0.98 immediately following a natural sedimentation event before recovering to levels of 1.4 and 2.9 on post-storm days 2 and 4, respectively. Colonies of M. annularis subject to heat-stress (35??C) exhibited no significant change in storage lipid ratio, while levels of Free Fatty Acids increased significantly from 0.012 (n = 22) to 0.156 mg lipid/g dry tissue (n = 22)(p < 0.05). FAME analysis of tissue lipids extracted from the heat-stressed colonies showed changes in the polar fraction, with significant decreases in the 18:3(n-6), 18:3(n-3), 18:4(n-3), 20:4(n-6) and 20:5(n-3) (p < 0.05) PUFA and subsequent significant increases in the saturated fatty acids, 16:0 and 18:0 (p < 0.05). These changes in lipid quantity and quality indicate possible oxidation and preferential digestion of zooxanthellar membranes. Stress experiments were repeated in M. annularis using VacutainerRTM blood collection tubes to collect micro-tissue samples without destroying skeleton of the sample colonies. A significant decrease in storage: structural lipid ratio after sedimentation was also detected using the micro-tissue technique. This study indicates that the relative abundance of lipid subclass components can indicate sub-lethal environmental stress, on short time scales, in M. annularis and M. faveolata. Furthermore, micro-tissue collection techniques permit repeated monitoring coral colonies to assess the manifestation of stress from first detection of impact at the cellular level to changes in community to changes in community structure detectable over longer time scales.



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