, Volume 148, Issue 5, pp 913-922
Date: 10 Nov 2005

High genetic diversity of the symbiotic dinoflagellates in the coral Pocillopora meandrina from the South Pacific

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Symbioses between dinoflagellates in the genus Symbiodinium (commonly referred to as zooxanthellae) and scleractinian corals are an essential feature for the maintenance of coral reefs. The fine-scale diversity and population structure of the zooxanthellae inhabiting the coral Pocillopora meandrina, a major reef building species in Polynesia, was examined. We used two polymorphic microsatellites to study seven populations from the South Pacific, whose host structuring has been previously investigated. The symbionts of P. meandrina showed high levels of diversity, with more than one zooxanthella genotype being identified in most of the host individuals. Genetic differentiation between symbiont populations was detected at a large scale (2,000 km) between the Tonga and the Society Archipelagos. Within the Society Archipelago, the two most remote populations (Tahiti and Bora-Bora; 200 km apart) were only weakly differentiated from each other. Statistical tests demonstrated that the symbiont genetic structure was not correlated with that of its host, suggesting that dispersal of the symbionts, whether they are transported within a host larva or free in the water, depends mainly on distance and water currents. In addition, the data suggests that hosts may acquire new symbionts after maternal transmission, possibly following a disturbance event. Lastly, the weak differentiation between symbiont populations of P. verrucosa and P. meandrina, both from Moorea, indicated that there was some host-symbiont fine-scale specificity detectable at the genetic resolution offered by microsatellites.