Reef-building corals owe much of their success to a symbiosis with dinoflagellate microalgae in the genus Symbiodinium. In this association, the performance of each organism is tied to that of its partner, and together the partners form a holobiont that can be subject to selection. Climate change affects coral reefs, which are declining globally as a result. Yet the extent to which coral holobionts will be able to acclimate or evolve to handle climate change and other stressors remains unclear. Selection acts on individuals and evidence from terrestrial systems demonstrates that intraspecific genetic diversity plays a significant role in symbiosis ecology and evolution. However, we have a limited understanding of the effects of such diversity in corals. As molecular methods have advanced, so too has our recognition of the taxonomic and functional diversity of holobiont partners. Resolving the major components of the holobiont to the level of the individual will help us assess the importance of intraspecific diversity and partner interactions in coral-algal symbioses. Here, we hypothesize that unique combinations of coral and algal individuals yield functional diversity that affects not only the ecology and evolution of the coral holobiont, but associated communities as well. Our synthesis is derived from reviewing existing evidence and presenting novel data. By incorporating the effects of holobiont extended phenotypes into predictive models, we may refine our understanding of the evolutionary trajectory of corals and reef communities responding to climate change.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Microbiology (medical)