The promiscuous larvae: flexibility in the establishment of symbiosis in corals
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Coral reefs thrive in part because of the symbiotic partnership between corals and Symbiodinium. While this partnership is one of the keys to the success of coral reef ecosystems, surprisingly little is known about many aspects of coral symbiosis, in particular the establishment and development of symbiosis in host species that acquire symbionts anew in each generation. More specifically, the point at which symbiosis is established (i.e., larva vs. juvenile) remains uncertain, as does the source of free-living Symbiodinium in the environment. In addition, the capacity of host and symbiont to form novel combinations is unknown. To explore patterns of initial association between host and symbiont, larvae of two species of Acropora were exposed to sediment collected from three locations on the Great Barrier Reef. A high proportion of larvae established symbiosis shortly after contact with sediments, and Acropora larvae were promiscuous, taking up multiple types of Symbiodinium. The Symbiodinium types acquired from the sediments reflected the symbiont assemblage within a wide range of cnidarian hosts at each of the three sites, suggesting potential regional differences in the free-living Symbiodinium assemblage. Coral larvae clearly have the capacity to take up Symbiodinium prior to settlement, and sediment is a likely source. Promiscuous larvae allow species to associate with Symbiodinium appropriate for potentially novel environments that may be experienced following dispersal.
KeywordsCoral reefs Symbiosis Sediment Climate change Free-living Symbiodinium
This research was funded by AIMS@JCU and the Lerner-Gray Memorial Fund of the American Museum of Natural History. We thank E. Graham, P. Cetina-Heredia, R. Littman and J. van Dam for assistance with this experiment, P. J. Edmunds and two anonymous reviewers for comments on the manuscript.
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