Unlocking the phylogenetic diversity, primary habitats, and abundances of free-living Symbiodiniaceae on a coral reef.

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Molecular ecology, 2020
Issue Date:
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Dinoflagellates of the family Symbiodiniaceae form mutualistic symbioses with marine invertebrates such as reef-building corals, but also inhabit reef environments as free-living cells. Most coral species acquire Symbiodiniaceae horizontally from the surrounding environment during the larval and/or recruitment phase, however the phylogenetic diversity and ecology of free-living Symbiodiniaceae on coral reefs is largely unknown. We coupled environmental DNA sequencing and genus-specific qPCR to resolve the community structure and cell abundances of free-living Symbiodiniaceae in the water column, sediment, and macroalgae and compared these to coral symbionts. Sampling was conducted at two time points, one of which coincided with the annual coral spawning event when recombination between hosts and free-living Symbiodiniaceae is assumed to be critical. Amplicons of the internal transcribed spacer (ITS2) region were assigned to 12 of the 15 Symbiodiniaceae genera or genera-equivalent lineages. Community compositions were separated by habitat, with water samples containing a high proportion of sequences corresponding to coral symbionts of the genus Cladocopium, potentially as a result of cell expulsion from in hospite populations. Sediment-associated Symbiodiniaceae communities were distinct, potentially due to the presence of exclusively free-living species. Intriguingly, macroalgal surfaces displayed the highest cell abundances of Symbiodiniaceae, suggesting a key role for macroalgae in ensuring the ecological success of corals through maintenance of a continuum between environmental and symbiotic populations of Symbiodiniaceae.
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