The coloration of tropical reef corals is mainly due to their association with photosynthetic dinoflagellates commonly known as zooxanthellae. Combining High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC), spectroscopy and derivative analysis we provide a novel approach to discriminate between the Caribbean shallow-water corals Acropora cervicornis
and Porites porites
based on their associated pigments. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first time that the total array of pigments found within the coral holobiont is reported. A total of 20 different pigments were identified including chlorophylls, carotenes and xanthophylls. Of these, eleven pigments were common to both species, eight were present only in A. cervicornis
, and three were present only in P. porites
. Given that these corals are living in similar physical conditions, we hypothesize that this pigment composition difference is likely a consequence of harboring different zooxanthellae clades with a possible influence of endolithic green or brown algae. We tested the effect of this difference in pigments on the reflectance spectra of both species. An important outcome was the correlation of total pigment concentration with coral reflectance spectra up to a 97% confidence level. Derivative analysis of the reflectance curves showed particular differences between species at wavelengths where several chlorophylls, carotenes and xanthophylls absorb. Within species variability of spectral features was not significant while interspecies variability was highly significant. We recognize that the detection of such differences with actual airborne or satellite remote sensors is extremely difficult. Nonetheless, based on our results, the combination of these techniques (HPLC, spectroscopy and derivative analysis) can be used as a robust approach for the development of a site specific spectral library for the identification of shallow-water coral species. Studies (Torres-Pérez, NASA Postdoctoral Program) are currently underway to further apply this approach to other Caribbean benthic coral reef features. The data will be used with planned and future airborne and satellite studies of the site and for algorithm development to advance the use of future airborne and satellite instrument capabilities (NASA PRISM and HyspIRI) for discrimination of coral reef benthic composition.