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1.  Ancient DNA from Coral-Hosted Symbiodinium Reveal a Static Mutualism over the Last 172 Years 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(2):e55057.
Ancient DNA (aDNA) provides powerful evidence for detecting the genetic basis for adaptation to environmental change in many taxa. Among the greatest of changes in our biosphere within the last century is rapid anthropogenic ocean warming. This phenomenon threatens corals with extinction, evidenced by the increasing observation of widespread mortality following mass bleaching events. There is some evidence and conjecture that coral-dinoflagellate symbioses change partnerships in response to changing external conditions over ecological and evolutionary timescales. Until now, we have been unable to ascertain the genetic identity of Symbiodinium hosted by corals prior to the rapid global change of the last century. Here, we show that Symbiodinium cells recovered from dry, century old specimens of 6 host species of octocorals contain sufficient DNA for amplification of the ITS2 subregion of the nuclear ribosomal DNA, commonly used for genotyping within this genus. Through comparisons with modern specimens sampled from similar locales we show that symbiotic associations among several species have been static over the last century, thereby suggesting that adaptive shifts to novel symbiont types is not common among these gorgonians, and perhaps, symbiotic corals in general.
PMCID: PMC3566211  PMID: 23405111
2.  PCR Primers for Metazoan Nuclear 18S and 28S Ribosomal DNA Sequences 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(9):e46180.
Metagenetic analyses, which amplify and sequence target marker DNA regions from environmental samples, are increasingly employed to assess the biodiversity of communities of small organisms. Using this approach, our understanding of microbial diversity has expanded greatly. In contrast, only a few studies using this approach to characterize metazoan diversity have been reported, despite the fact that many metazoan species are small and difficult to identify or are undescribed. One of the reasons for this discrepancy is the availability of universal primers for the target taxa. In microbial studies, analysis of the 16S ribosomal DNA is standard. In contrast, the best gene for metazoan metagenetics is less clear. In the present study, we have designed primers that amplify the nuclear 18S and 28S ribosomal DNA sequences of most metazoan species with the goal of providing effective approaches for metagenetic analyses of metazoan diversity in environmental samples, with a particular emphasis on marine biodiversity.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Conserved regions suitable for designing PCR primers were identified using 14,503 and 1,072 metazoan sequences of the nuclear 18S and 28S rDNA regions, respectively. The sequence similarity of both these newly designed and the previously reported primers to the target regions of these primers were compared for each phylum to determine the expected amplification efficacy. The nucleotide diversity of the flanking regions of the primers was also estimated for genera or higher taxonomic groups of 11 phyla to determine the variable regions within the genes.
The identified nuclear ribosomal DNA primers (five primer pairs for 18S and eleven for 28S) and the results of the nucleotide diversity analyses provide options for primer combinations for metazoan metagenetic analyses. Additionally, advantages and disadvantages of not only the 18S and 28S ribosomal DNA, but also other marker regions as targets for metazoan metagenetic analyses, are discussed.
PMCID: PMC3458000  PMID: 23049971
3.  PCR Primers for Metazoan Mitochondrial 12S Ribosomal DNA Sequences 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(4):e35887.
Assessment of the biodiversity of communities of small organisms is most readily done using PCR-based analysis of environmental samples consisting of mixtures of individuals. Known as metagenetics, this approach has transformed understanding of microbial communities and is beginning to be applied to metazoans as well. Unlike microbial studies, where analysis of the 16S ribosomal DNA sequence is standard, the best gene for metazoan metagenetics is less clear. In this study we designed a set of PCR primers for the mitochondrial 12S ribosomal DNA sequence based on 64 complete mitochondrial genomes and then tested their efficacy.
Methodology/Principal Findings
A total of the 64 complete mitochondrial genome sequences representing all metazoan classes available in GenBank were downloaded using the NCBI Taxonomy Browser. Alignment of sequences was performed for the excised mitochondrial 12S ribosomal DNA sequences, and conserved regions were identified for all 64 mitochondrial genomes. These regions were used to design a primer pair that flanks a more variable region in the gene. Then all of the complete metazoan mitochondrial genomes available in NCBI's Organelle Genome Resources database were used to determine the percentage of taxa that would likely be amplified using these primers. Results suggest that these primers will amplify target sequences for many metazoans.
Newly designed 12S ribosomal DNA primers have considerable potential for metazoan metagenetic analysis because of their ability to amplify sequences from many metazoans.
PMCID: PMC3334914  PMID: 22536450
4.  Differences among Major Taxa in the Extent of Ecological Knowledge across Four Major Ecosystems 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(11):e26556.
Existing knowledge shapes our understanding of ecosystems and is critical for ecosystem-based management of the world's natural resources. Typically this knowledge is biased among taxa, with some taxa far better studied than others, but the extent of this bias is poorly known. In conjunction with the publically available World Registry of Marine Species database (WoRMS) and one of the world's premier electronic scientific literature databases (Web of Science®), a text mining approach is used to examine the distribution of existing ecological knowledge among taxa in coral reef, mangrove, seagrass and kelp bed ecosystems. We found that for each of these ecosystems, most research has been limited to a few groups of organisms. While this bias clearly reflects the perceived importance of some taxa as commercially or ecologically valuable, the relative lack of research of other taxonomic groups highlights the problem that some key taxa and associated ecosystem processes they affect may be poorly understood or completely ignored. The approach outlined here could be applied to any type of ecosystem for analyzing previous research effort and identifying knowledge gaps in order to improve ecosystem-based conservation and management.
PMCID: PMC3206803  PMID: 22073172
5.  The Diversity of Coral Reefs: What Are We Missing? 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(10):e25026.
Tropical reefs shelter one quarter to one third of all marine species but one third of the coral species that construct reefs are now at risk of extinction. Because traditional methods for assessing reef diversity are extremely time consuming, taxonomic expertise for many groups is lacking, and marine organisms are thought to be less vulnerable to extinction, most discussions of reef conservation focus on maintenance of ecosystem services rather than biodiversity loss. In this study involving the three major oceans with reef growth, we provide new biodiversity estimates based on quantitative sampling and DNA barcoding. We focus on crustaceans, which are the second most diverse group of marine metazoans. We show exceptionally high numbers of crustacean species associated with coral reefs relative to sampling effort (525 species from a combined, globally distributed sample area of 6.3 m2). The high prevalence of rare species (38% encountered only once), the low level of spatial overlap (81% found in only one locality) and the biogeographic patterns of diversity detected (Indo-West Pacific>Central Pacific>Caribbean) are consistent with results from traditional survey methods, making this approach a reliable and efficient method for assessing and monitoring biodiversity. The finding of such large numbers of species in a small total area suggests that coral reef diversity is seriously under-detected using traditional survey methods, and by implication, underestimated.
PMCID: PMC3192706  PMID: 22022371
6.  Long Distance Dispersal and Connectivity in Amphi-Atlantic Corals at Regional and Basin Scales 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(7):e22298.
Among Atlantic scleractinian corals, species diversity is highest in the Caribbean, but low diversity and high endemism are observed in various peripheral populations in central and eastern Atlantic islands and along the coasts of Brazil and West Africa. The degree of connectivity between these distantly separated populations is of interest because it provides insight into processes at both evolutionary and ecological time scales, such as speciation, recruitment dynamics and the persistence of coral populations. To assess connectivity in broadly distributed coral species of the Atlantic, DNA sequence data from two nuclear markers were obtained for six coral species spanning their distributional ranges. At basin-wide scales, significant differentiation was generally observed among populations in the Caribbean, Brazil and West Africa. Concordance of patterns in connectivity among co-distributed taxa indicates that extrinsic barriers, such as the Amazon freshwater plume or long stretches of open ocean, restrict dispersal of coral larvae from region to region. Within regions, dispersal ability appears to be influenced by aspects of reproduction and life history. Two broadcasting species, Siderastrea siderea and Montastraea cavernosa, were able to maintain gene flow among populations separated by as much as 1,200 km along the coast of Brazil. In contrast, brooding species, such as Favia gravida and Siderastrea radians, had more restricted gene flow along the Brazilian coast.
PMCID: PMC3142122  PMID: 21799816
7.  Mitochondrial and Nuclear Genes Suggest that Stony Corals Are Monophyletic but Most Families of Stony Corals Are Not (Order Scleractinia, Class Anthozoa, Phylum Cnidaria) 
PLoS ONE  2008;3(9):e3222.
Modern hard corals (Class Hexacorallia; Order Scleractinia) are widely studied because of their fundamental role in reef building and their superb fossil record extending back to the Triassic. Nevertheless, interpretations of their evolutionary relationships have been in flux for over a decade. Recent analyses undermine the legitimacy of traditional suborders, families and genera, and suggest that a non-skeletal sister clade (Order Corallimorpharia) might be imbedded within the stony corals. However, these studies either sampled a relatively limited array of taxa or assembled trees from heterogeneous data sets. Here we provide a more comprehensive analysis of Scleractinia (127 species, 75 genera, 17 families) and various outgroups, based on two mitochondrial genes (cytochrome oxidase I, cytochrome b), with analyses of nuclear genes (ß-tubulin, ribosomal DNA) of a subset of taxa to test unexpected relationships. Eleven of 16 families were found to be polyphyletic. Strikingly, over one third of all families as conventionally defined contain representatives from the highly divergent “robust” and “complex” clades. However, the recent suggestion that corallimorpharians are true corals that have lost their skeletons was not upheld. Relationships were supported not only by mitochondrial and nuclear genes, but also often by morphological characters which had been ignored or never noted previously. The concordance of molecular characters and more carefully examined morphological characters suggests a future of greater taxonomic stability, as well as the potential to trace the evolutionary history of this ecologically important group using fossils.
PMCID: PMC2528942  PMID: 18795098
8.  Microbial Ecology of Four Coral Atolls in the Northern Line Islands 
PLoS ONE  2008;3(2):e1584.
Microbes are key players in both healthy and degraded coral reefs. A combination of metagenomics, microscopy, culturing, and water chemistry were used to characterize microbial communities on four coral atolls in the Northern Line Islands, central Pacific. Kingman, a small uninhabited atoll which lies most northerly in the chain, had microbial and water chemistry characteristic of an open ocean ecosystem. On this atoll the microbial community was equally divided between autotrophs (mostly Prochlorococcus spp.) and heterotrophs. In contrast, Kiritimati, a large and populated (∼5500 people) atoll, which is most southerly in the chain, had microbial and water chemistry characteristic of a near-shore environment. On Kiritimati, there were 10 times more microbial cells and virus-like particles in the water column and these microbes were dominated by heterotrophs, including a large percentage of potential pathogens. Culturable Vibrios were common only on Kiritimati. The benthic community on Kiritimati had the highest prevalence of coral disease and lowest coral cover. The middle atolls, Palmyra and Tabuaeran, had intermediate densities of microbes and viruses and higher percentages of autotrophic microbes than either Kingman or Kiritimati. The differences in microbial communities across atolls could reflect variation in 1) oceaonographic and/or hydrographic conditions or 2) human impacts associated with land-use and fishing. The fact that historically Kingman and Kiritimati did not differ strongly in their fish or benthic communities (both had large numbers of sharks and high coral cover) suggest an anthropogenic component in the differences in the microbial communities. Kingman is one of the world's most pristine coral reefs, and this dataset should serve as a baseline for future studies of coral reef microbes. Obtaining the microbial data set, from atolls is particularly important given the association of microbes in the ongoing degradation of coral reef ecosystems worldwide.
PMCID: PMC2253183  PMID: 18301735
9.  Baselines and Degradation of Coral Reefs in the Northern Line Islands 
PLoS ONE  2008;3(2):e1548.
Effective conservation requires rigorous baselines of pristine conditions to assess the impacts of human activities and to evaluate the efficacy of management. Most coral reefs are moderately to severely degraded by local human activities such as fishing and pollution as well as global change, hence it is difficult to separate local from global effects. To this end, we surveyed coral reefs on uninhabited atolls in the northern Line Islands to provide a baseline of reef community structure, and on increasingly populated atolls to document changes associated with human activities. We found that top predators and reef-building organisms dominated unpopulated Kingman and Palmyra, while small planktivorous fishes and fleshy algae dominated the populated atolls of Tabuaeran and Kiritimati. Sharks and other top predators overwhelmed the fish assemblages on Kingman and Palmyra so that the biomass pyramid was inverted (top-heavy). In contrast, the biomass pyramid at Tabuaeran and Kiritimati exhibited the typical bottom-heavy pattern. Reefs without people exhibited less coral disease and greater coral recruitment relative to more inhabited reefs. Thus, protection from overfishing and pollution appears to increase the resilience of reef ecosystems to the effects of global warming.
PMCID: PMC2244711  PMID: 18301734
10.  Shifting Baselines, Local Impacts, and Global Change on Coral Reefs 
PLoS Biology  2008;6(2):e54.
The striking health of remote coral reefs provides clear evidence that protection from local overfishing and pollution can help mitigate the impacts of global warming.
PMCID: PMC2253644  PMID: 18303956
11.  Ocean health and human health. 
PMCID: PMC1241935  PMID: 15064175

Results 1-12 (12)