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Mode of zooxanthella transmission does not affect zooxanthella diversity in acroporid corals


Two distinct modes of algal endosymbiont acquisition exist in corals, a direct transmission from the parental colony to the eggs and a larval or post-larval uptake from the environment. The former, maternal-transmission mode is expected to be a more closed system, while the latter is believed to be an open system. Here we test the hypothesis that the diversity of symbionts in closed systems is lower than that in open systems. We examine the identity and diversity of the algal endosymbionts (zooxanthellae) in 25 Montipora species sampled from Irian Jaya (Indonesia) and Magnetic Island (central Great Barrier Reef) and compare the results with those previously obtained from Acropora species, which belong to the same family. All Montipora colonies examined harbour clade C zooxanthellae, with two colonies harbouring both clade C and D zooxanthellae simultaneously. Two algal strains (named C· and D· in this study) present in Montipora have not been observed in Acropora, and may have co-evolved with Montipora. Symbiodinium C· shows approximately 5% sequence divergence from C strains observed in Acropora spp. and occurs in 76% of the colonies examined. Nevertheless, several other C strains commonly found in other corals occur in some of the Montipora colonies. Montipora species transmit their algal endosymbionts directly to the eggs, while Acropora species have to acquire zooxanthellae from the environment every generation. Contrary to our expectations, the diversity of zooxanthellae is similar for the two genera, indicating that the mode of symbiont transmission (i.e. maternal versus horizontal) does not affect symbiont diversity in acroporid corals.

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I thank Charlie Veron for collection of the Indonesian samples and identification of all samples, David Miller for allowing me to undertake a large part of this study in his laboratory at James Cook University (Townsville, Australia), and Melissa Schubert and Lesa Peplow for their contribution to gathering the data. This study was funded by the Australian Research Council and the Australian Institute of Marine Science.

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Correspondence to Madeleine J. H. van Oppen.

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Communicated by M.S. Johnson, Crawley

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van Oppen, M.J.H. Mode of zooxanthella transmission does not affect zooxanthella diversity in acroporid corals. Marine Biology 144, 1–7 (2004).

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  • Great Barrier Reef
  • Algal Symbiont
  • Acropora Species
  • Acroporid Coral
  • Algal Endosymbiont