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Diversity and community structure of symbiotic dinoflagellates from Caribbean coral reefs

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A community ecology approach to the study of the most common group of zooxanthellae, dinoflagellates in the genus Symbiodinium, was applied to symbiotic invertebrate assemblages on coral reefs in the western Caribbean, off the Yucatan peninsula (Puerto Morelos, Mexico) and over 1000 km away in the northeastern Caribbean, at Lee Stocking Island, Bahamas. Sequence differences and intragenomic variation, as determined by denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis and sequencing of the internal transcribed spacer 2 (ITS 2) region, were used to classify these symbionts. Twenty-eight genetically distinct Symbiodinium types were identified, eleven of which were found in hosts from both Caribbean locations. A single symbiont population was detected in 72% of hosts from the Yucatan and 92% of hosts from the Bahamas. The reef-wide community distribution of these symbionts is dominated by a few types found in many different host taxa, while numerous rare types appear to have high specificity for a particular host species or genus. Clade or lineage A Symbiodinium spp. was restricted to compatible hosts located within 3–4 m of the surface, while Symbiodinium spp. types from other lineages displayed differences in vertical zonation correlated with ITS type but were independent of clade designation. A comparison of the symbiont types found in field-collected hosts with types previously cultured from these hosts indicates the existence of low density or "background"-symbiont populations and cryptic, potentially non-mutualistic types in some hosts.

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LaJeunesse, .T. Diversity and community structure of symbiotic dinoflagellates from Caribbean coral reefs. Marine Biology 141, 387–400 (2002).

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