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Long-standing environmental conditions, geographic isolation and host–symbiont specificity influence the relative ecological dominance and genetic diversification of coral endosymbionts in the genus Symbiodinium

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Abstract Aim 

This study examines the importance of geographic proximity, host life history and regional and local differences in environment (temperature and water clarity) in driving the ecological and evolutionary processes underpinning the global patterns of diversity and distribution of symbiotic dinoflagellates. By comparing and contrasting coral–algal symbioses from isolated regions with differing environmental conditions, we may assess the potential of coral communities to respond to significant changes in climate. Location 

Indian Ocean. Methods 

Community assemblages of obligate symbiotic invertebrates were sampled at numerous sites from two regions, the north-eastern Indian Ocean (Andaman Sea, western Thailand) and the western Indian Ocean (Zanzibar, Tanzania). Molecular genetic methods, including denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis analysis of the ribosomal internal transcribed spacers, DNA sequencing and microsatellite genotyping, were used to characterize the ‘species’ diversity and evolutionary relationships of symbiotic dinoflagellates (genus Symbiodinium). Host–symbiont specificity, geographic isolation and local and regional environmental factors were evaluated in terms of their importance in governing the distribution and prevalence of certain symbiont taxa. Results 

Host-generalist symbionts (C3u and D1-4, formerly D1a now designated Symbiodinium trenchi) frequently occurred alone and sometimes together in hosts with horizontal modes of symbiont acquisition. However, the majority of Symbiodinium diversity consisted of apparently host-specific ‘species’. Clade C Symbiodinium were diverse and dominated host assemblages from sites sampled in the western Indian Ocean, a pattern analogous to symbiont communities on the Great Barrier Reef with similar environmental conditions. Clade D Symbiodinium were diverse and occurred frequently in hosts from the north-eastern Indian Ocean, especially at inshore locations, where temperatures are warmer, water turbidity is high and large tidal exchanges commonly expose coral populations to aerial desiccation. Main conclusions 

Regional and local differences in cnidarian–algal combinations indicate that these symbioses are ecologically and evolutionarily responsive and can thrive under various environmental conditions. The high temperatures and turbid conditions of the north-eastern Indian Ocean partly explain the ecological success of Clade D Symbiodinium relative to Clade C. Phylogenetic, ecological and population genetic data further indicate that Clade D has undergone an adaptive radiation, especially in regions around Southeast Asia, during the Pleistocene.
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Keywords: Adaptive radiation; Andaman Sea; Great Barrier Reef; Indian Ocean; Symbiodinium; Zanzibar; dinoflagellate endosymbionts; reef corals

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Biology, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802, USA 2: Phuket Marine Biological Center (PMBC), 51 Sakdigaj Rd., Vichit, Maung, Phuket 83000, Thailand 3: School of Biology, University of Newcastle upon Tyne, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK 4: Coastal Ocean Research and Development Indian Ocean (CORDIO), Mombasa 80101, Kenya 5: Centre for Marine Studies, University of Queensland, St. Lucia, Qld 4072, Australia 6: Odum School of Ecology, University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602, USA

Publication date: 2010-05-01

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