, Volume 27, Issue 4, pp 913-925,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 11 Aug 2008

Distribution and photobiology of Symbiodinium types in different light environments for three colour morphs of the coral Madracis pharensis: is there more to it than total irradiance?


The role of symbiont variation in the photobiology of reef corals was addressed by investigating the links among symbiont genetic diversity, function and ecological distribution in a single host species, Madracis pharensis. Symbiont distribution was studied for two depths (10 and 25 m), two different light habitats (exposed and shaded) and three host colour morphs (brown, purple and green). Two Symbiodinium genotypes were present, as defined by nuclear internal transcribed spacer 2 ribosomal DNA (ITS2-rDNA) variation. Symbiont distribution was depth- and colour morph-dependent. Type B15 occurred predominantly on the deeper reef and in green and purple colonies, while type B7 was present in shallow environments and brown colonies. Different light microhabitats at fixed depths had no effect on symbiont presence. This ecological distribution suggests that symbiont presence is potentially driven by light spectral niches. A reciprocal depth transplantation experiment indicated steady symbiont populations under environment change. Functional parameters such as pigment composition, chlorophyll a fluorescence and cell densities were measured for 25 m and included in multivariate analyses. Most functional variation was explained by two photobiological assemblages that relate to either symbiont identity or light microhabitat, suggesting adaptation and acclimation, respectively. Type B15 occurs with lower cell densities and larger sizes, higher cellular pigment concentrations and higher peridinin to chlorophyll a ratio than type B7. Type B7 relates to a larger xanthophyll-pool size. These unambiguous differences between symbionts can explain their distributional patterns, with type B15 being potentially more adapted to darker or deeper environments than B7. Symbiont cell size may play a central role in the adaptation of coral holobionts to the deeper reef. The existence of functional differences between B-types shows that the clade classification does not necessarily correspond to functional identity. This study supports the use of ITS2 as an ecological and functionally meaningful marker in Symbiodinium.

Communicated by Biology Editor Dr. Michael Lesser