DOC concentrations across a depth-dependent light gradient on a Caribbean coral reef

Benjamin Mueller*, Erik H. Meesters, Fleur C. Van Duyl

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Photosynthates released by benthic primary producers (BPP), such as reef algae and scleractinian corals, fuel the dissolved organic carbon (DOC) production on tropical coral reefs. DOC concentrations near BPP have repeatedly been observed to be elevated compared to those in the surrounding water column. As the DOC release of BPP increases with increasing light availability, elevated DOC concentrations near them will, in part, also depend on light availability. Consequently, DOC concentrations are likely to be higher on the shallow, well-lit reef terrace than in deeper sections on the fore reef slope. We measured in situ DOC concentrations and light intensity in close proximity to the reef alga Dictyota sp. and the scleractinian coral Orbicella faveolata along a depth-dependent light gradient from 5 to 20 m depth and compared these to background concentrations in the water column. At 10 m (intermediate light),
DOC concentrations near Dictyota sp. were elevated by 15 mmol C L􀀀1 compared
to background concentrations in the water column, but not at 5 and 20 m (high
and low light, respectively), or near O. faveolata at any of the tested depths. DOC
concentrations did not differ between depths and thereby light environments for
any of the tested water types. However, water type and depth appear to jointly
affect in situ DOC concentrations across the tested depth-dependent light gradient. Corroborative ex situ measurements of excitation pressure on photosystem II suggest that photoinhibition in Dictyota sp. is likely to occur at light intensities that are commonly present on Curacaoan coral reefs under high light levels at 5 m depth during midday. Photoinhibition may have thereby reduced the DOC release of Dictyota sp. and DOC concentrations in its close proximity. Our results indicate that the occurrence of elevated DOC concentrations did not follow a natural light gradiënt across depth. Instead, a combination of multiple factors, such as water type, light availability (including the restriction by photoinhibition), and water movement are proposed to interactively determine the DOC concentrations in the close vicinity of
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere3456
Number of pages15
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Dissolved organic carbon
  • Coral reef
  • Depth gradient
  • Light
  • Coral
  • Algae
  • Photoinhibition


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