Light is absorbed by photosynthetic algal symbionts (i.e. zooxanthellae) and by chromophoric fluorescent proteins (FP) in reef-building coral tissue. We used a streak-camera spectrograph equipped with a pulsed, blue laser diode (50 ps, 405 nm) to simultaneously resolve the fluorescence spectra and kinetics for both the FP and the zooxanthellae. Shallow water (<9 m)–dwelling Acropora spp. and Plesiastrea versipora specimens were collected from Okinawa, Japan, and Sydney, Australia, respectively. The main FP emitted light in the blue, blue-green and green emission regions with each species exhibiting distinct color morphs and spectra. All corals showed rapidly decaying species and reciprocal rises in greener emission components indicating Förster resonance energy transfer (FRET) between FP populations. The energy transfer modes were around 250 ps, and the main decay modes of the acceptor FP were typically 1900–2800 ps. All zooxanthellae emitted similar spectra and kinetics with peak emission (∼683 nm) mainly from photosystem II (PSII) chlorophyll (chl) a. Compared with the FP, the PSII emission exhibited similar rise times but much faster decay times, typically around 640–760 ps. The fluorescence kinetics and excitation versus emission mapping indicated that the FP emission played only a minor role, if any, in chl excitation. We thus suggest the FP could only indirectly act to absorb, screen and scatter light to protect PSII and underlying and surrounding animal tissue from excess visible and UV light. We conclude that our time-resolved spectral analysis and simulation revealed new FP emission components that would not be easily resolved at steady state because of their relatively rapid decays due to efficient FRET. We believe the methods show promise for future studies of coral bleaching and for potentially identifying FP species for use as genetic markers and FRET partners, like the related green FP from Aequorea spp.
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Vol. 77 • No. 5