SYNOPSIS. Photosynthesis and calcification in zooxanthellate scleractinian corals and coral reefs are reviewed at several scales: cellular (pathways and transport mechanisms of inorganic carbon and calcium), organismal (interaction between photosynthesis and calcification, effect of light) and ecosystemic (community primary production and calcification, and air-sea CO2 exchanges).

The coral host plays a major role in supplying carbon for the photosynthesis by the algal symbionts through a system similar to the carbon-concentrating mechanism described in free living algal cells. The details of carbon supply to the calcification process are almost unknown, but metabolic CO2 seems to be a significant source. Calcium supply for calcification is diffusional through oral layers, and active membrane transport only occurs between the calicoblastic cells and the site of calcification. Photosynthesis and calcification are tightly coupled in zooxanthellate scleractinian corals and coral reef communities. Calcification is, on average, three times higher in light than in darkness. The recent suggestion that calcification is dark-repressed rather than light-enhanced is not supported by the literature. There is a very strong correlation between photosynthesis and calcification at both the organism and community levels, but the ratios of calcification to gross photosynthesis (0.6 in corals and 0.2 in reef communities) differ from unity, and from each other as a function of level.

The potential effect of global climatic changes (pCO2 and temperature) on the rate of calcification is also reviewed. In various calcifying photosynthetic organisms and communities, the rate of calcification decreases as a function of increasing pCO2 and decreasing calcium carbonate saturation state. The calculated decrease in CaCO3, production, estimated using the scenarios considered by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), is 10% between 1880 and 1990, and 9–30% (mid estimate: 22%) from 1990 to 2100. Inadequate understanding of the mechanism of calcification and its interaction with photosynthesis severely limits the ability to provide an accurate prediction of future changes in the rate of calcification.

Author notes

1From the Symposium Coral Reefs and Environ mental Changes—Adaptation. Acclimation, or Extinction presented at the annual Meeting of the Society for Comparative and Integrative Biology, 3–7 January 1998, at Boston, Massachusetts.