The relative significance of host-habitat, depth, and geography on the ecology, endemism, and speciation of coral endosymbionts in the genus Symbiodinium

J. Christine Finney, Daniel Tye Pettay, Eugenia M. Sampayo, Mark E. Warner, Hazel A. Oxenford, Todd C. LaJeunesse

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Dinoflagellates in the genus Symbiodinium are among the most abundant and important group of eukaryotic microbes found in coral reef ecosystems. Recent analyses conducted on various host cnidarians indicated that Symbiodinium assemblages in the Caribbean Sea are genetically and ecologically diverse. In order to further characterize this diversity and identify processes important to its origins, samples from six orders of Cnidaria comprising 45 genera were collected from reef habitats around Barbados (eastern Caribbean) and from the Mesoamerican barrier reef off the coast of Belize (western Caribbean). Fingerprinting of the ribosomal internal transcribed spacer 2 identified 62 genetically different Symbiodinium. Additional analyses of clade B Symbiodinium using microsatellite flanker sequences unequivocally characterized divergent lineages, or "species," within what was previously thought to be a single entity (B1 or B184). In contrast to the Indo-Pacific where host-generalist symbionts dominate many coral communities, partner specificity in the Caribbean is relatively high and is influenced little by the host's apparent mode of symbiont acquisition. Habitat depth (ambient light) and geographic isolation appeared to influence the bathymetric zonation and regional distribution for most of the Symbiodinium spp. characterized. Approximately 80% of Symbiodinium types were endemic to either the eastern or western Caribbean and 40-50% were distributed to compatible hosts living in shallow, high-irradiance, or deep, low-irradiance environments. These ecologic, geographic, and phylogenetic patterns indicate that most of the present Symbiodinium diversity probably originated from adaptive radiations driven by ecological specialization in separate Caribbean regions during the Pliocene and Pleistocene periods.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)250-263
Number of pages14
JournalMicrobial Ecology
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 26 2010


All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Soil Science

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