Endozoicomonas bacteria were found highly associated with the coral Stylophora pistillata, and these bacteria are also ubiquitously associated with diverse corals worldwide. Novel Endozoicomonas-specific probes revealed that Endozoicomonas bacteria were abundant in the endodermal tissues of S. pistillata and appear to have an intimate relationship with the coral.
Coral reefs of the Central Red Sea display a high degree of endemism, and are increasingly threatened by anthropogenic effects due to intense local coastal development measures. Overfishing and eutrophication are among the most significant local pressures on these reefs, but there is no information available about their potential effects on the associated microbial community. Therefore, we compared holobiont physiology and 16S-based bacterial communities of tissue and mucus of the hard coral Acropora hemprichii after 1 and 16 weeks of in-situ inorganic nutrient enrichment (via fertilizer diffusion) and/or herbivore exclusion (via caging) in an offshore reef of the Central Red Sea. Simulated eutrophication and/or overfishing treatments did not affect coral physiology with respect to coral respiration rates, chlorophyll a content, zooxanthellae abundance, or δ 15N isotopic signatures. The bacterial community of A. hemprichii was rich and uneven, and diversity increased over time in all treatments. While distinct bacterial species were identified as a consequence of eutrophication, overfishing, or both, two bacterial species that could be classified to the genus Endozoicomonas were consistently abundant and constituted two thirds of bacteria in the coral. Several nitrogen-fixing and denitrifying bacteria were found in the coral specimens that were exposed to experimentally increased nutrients. However, no particular bacterial species was consistently associated with the coral under a given treatment and the single effects of manipulated eutrophication and overfishing could not predict the combined effect. Our data underlines the importance of conducting field studies in a holobiont framework, taking both, physiological and molecular measures into account.
Coral reefs belong to the most ecologically and economically important ecosystems on our planet. Yet, they are under steady decline worldwide due to rising sea surface temperatures, disease, and pollution. Understanding the molecular impact of these stressors on different coral species is imperative in order to predict how coral populations will respond to this continued disturbance. The use of molecular tools such as microarrays has provided deep insight into the molecular stress response of corals. Here, we have performed comparative genomic hybridizations (CGH) with different coral species to an Acropora palmata microarray platform containing 13,546 cDNA clones in order to identify potentially rapidly evolving genes and to determine the suitability of existing microarray platforms for use in gene expression studies (via heterologous hybridization).
Our results showed that the current microarray platform for A. palmata is able to provide biological relevant information for a wide variety of coral species covering both the complex clade as well the robust clade. Analysis of the fraction of highly diverged genes showed a significantly higher amount of genes without annotation corroborating previous findings that point towards a higher rate of divergence for taxonomically restricted genes. Among the genes with annotation, we found many mitochondrial genes to be highly diverged in M. faveolata when compared to A. palmata, while the majority of nuclear encoded genes maintained an average divergence rate.
The use of present microarray platforms for transcriptional analyses in different coral species will greatly enhance the understanding of the molecular basis of stress and health and highlight evolutionary differences between scleractinian coral species. On a genomic basis, we show that cDNA arrays can be used to identify patterns of divergence. Mitochondrion-encoded genes seem to have diverged faster than nuclear encoded genes in robust corals. Accordingly, this needs to be taken into account when using mitochondrial markers for scleractinian phylogenies.
Coral reefs; Comparative genomic hybridization (CGH); Microarray; Mitochondria; Evolution
Dinoflagellates are unicellular algae that are ubiquitously abundant in aquatic environments. Species of the genus Symbiodinium form symbiotic relationships with reef-building corals and other marine invertebrates. Despite their ecologic importance, little is known about the genetics of dinoflagellates in general and Symbiodinium in particular. Here, we used 454 sequencing to generate transcriptome data from two Symbiodinium species from different clades (clade A and clade B). With more than 56,000 assembled sequences per species, these data represent the largest transcriptomic resource for dinoflagellates to date. Our results corroborate previous observations that dinoflagellates possess the complete nucleosome machinery. We found a complete set of core histones as well as several H3 variants and H2A.Z in one species. Furthermore, transcriptome analysis points toward a low number of transcription factors in Symbiodinium spp. that also differ in the distribution of DNA-binding domains relative to other eukaryotes. In particular the cold shock domain was predominant among transcription factors. Additionally, we found a high number of antioxidative genes in comparison to non-symbiotic but evolutionary related organisms. These findings might be of relevance in the context of the role that Symbiodinium spp. play as coral symbionts.
Our data represent the most comprehensive dinoflagellate EST data set to date. This study provides a comprehensive resource to further analyze the genetic makeup, metabolic capacities, and gene repertoire of Symbiodinium and dinoflagellates. Overall, our findings indicate that Symbiodinium possesses some unique characteristics, in particular the transcriptional regulation in Symbiodinium may differ from the currently known mechanisms of eukaryotic gene regulation.
The unexpected high species richness of deep-sea sediments gives rise to the questions, which processes produce and maintain diversity in the deep sea, and at what spatial scales do these processes operate? The idea of a small-scale habitat structure at the deep-sea floor provides the background for this study. At small scales biogenic structures create a heterogeneous environment that influences the structure of the surrounding communities and the dynamics of the meiobenthic populations. As an example for biogenic structures, small deep-sea sponges (Tentorium semisuberites Schmidt 1870) and their sedimentary environment were investigated for small-scale distribution patterns of benthic deep-sea nematodes. Sampling was carried out with the remotely operated vehicle Victor 6000 at the Arctic deep-sea observatory HAUSGARTEN. In order to investigate nematode community patterns sediment cores around three small sponges and corresponding control cores were analysed. A total of approx. 5800 nematodes were identified. The comparison of the nematode communities from sponge and control samples indicated an influence of the biogenic structure “sponge” on diversity patterns and habitat heterogeneity. The increased number of nematode species and functional groups found in the sediments around the sponges suggest that on a small scale the sponge acts as a gradient and creates a more divers habitat structure. The nematode community from the sponge sediments shows a greater taxonomic variance and species richness together with lower relative abundances of the species compared to those from control sediments. Obviously, the more homogeneous habitat conditions of the control sediments offer less micro-habitats than the sediments around the sponges. This seems to reduce the number of functional groups and species coexisting in the control sediments.
Corals worldwide are in decline due to climate change effects (e.g., rising seawater temperatures), pollution, and exploitation. The ability of corals to cope with these stressors in the long run depends on the evolvability of the underlying genetic networks and proteins, which remain largely unknown. A genome-wide scan for positively selected genes between related coral species can help to narrow down the search space considerably.
We screened a set of 2,604 putative orthologs from EST-based sequence datasets of the coral species Acropora millepora and Acropora palmata to determine the fraction and identity of proteins that may experience adaptive evolution. 7% of the orthologs show elevated rates of evolution. Taxonomically-restricted (i.e. lineage-specific) genes show a positive selection signature more frequently than genes that are found across many animal phyla. The class of proteins that displayed elevated evolutionary rates was significantly enriched for proteins involved in immunity and defense, reproduction, and sensory perception. We also found elevated rates of evolution in several other functional groups such as management of membrane vesicles, transmembrane transport of ions and organic molecules, cell adhesion, and oxidative stress response. Proteins in these processes might be related to the endosymbiotic relationship corals maintain with dinoflagellates in the genus Symbiodinium.
This study provides a birds-eye view of the processes potentially underlying coral adaptation, which will serve as a foundation for future work to elucidate the rates, patterns, and mechanisms of corals' evolutionary response to global climate change.
Coral reefs are disturbed on a global scale by environmental changes including rising sea surface temperatures and ocean acidification. Little is known about how corals respond or adapt to these environmental changes especially at the molecular level. This is mostly because of the paucity of genome-wide studies on corals and the application of systems approaches that incorporate the latter. Like in any other organism, the response of corals to stress is tightly controlled by the coordinated interplay of many transcription factors.
Here, we develop and apply a new system-wide approach in order to infer combinatorial transcription factor networks of the reef-building coral Acropora millepora. By integrating sequencing-derived transcriptome measurements, a network of physically interacting transcription factors, and phylogenetic network footprinting we were able to infer such a network. Analysis of the network across a phylogenetically broad sample of five species, including human, reveals that despite the apparent simplicity of corals, their transcription factors repertoire and interaction networks seem to be largely conserved. In addition, we were able to identify interactions among transcription factors that appear to be species-specific lending strength to the novel concept of "Taxonomically Restricted Interactions".
This study provides the first look at transcription factor networks in corals. We identified a transcription factor repertoire encoded by the coral genome and found consistencies of the domain architectures of transcription factors and conserved regulatory subnetworks across eumetazoan species, providing insight into how regulatory networks have evolved.
Timely and accurate biodiversity analysis poses an ongoing challenge for the success of biomonitoring programs. Morphology-based identification of bioindicator taxa is time consuming, and rarely supports species-level resolution especially for immature life stages. Much work has been done in the past decade to develop alternative approaches for biodiversity analysis using DNA sequence-based approaches such as molecular phylogenetics and DNA barcoding. On-going assembly of DNA barcode reference libraries will provide the basis for a DNA-based identification system. The use of recently introduced next-generation sequencing (NGS) approaches in biodiversity science has the potential to further extend the application of DNA information for routine biomonitoring applications to an unprecedented scale. Here we demonstrate the feasibility of using 454 massively parallel pyrosequencing for species-level analysis of freshwater benthic macroinvertebrate taxa commonly used for biomonitoring. We designed our experiments in order to directly compare morphology-based, Sanger sequencing DNA barcoding, and next-generation environmental barcoding approaches. Our results show the ability of 454 pyrosequencing of mini-barcodes to accurately identify all species with more than 1% abundance in the pooled mixture. Although the approach failed to identify 6 rare species in the mixture, the presence of sequences from 9 species that were not represented by individuals in the mixture provides evidence that DNA based analysis may yet provide a valuable approach in finding rare species in bulk environmental samples. We further demonstrate the application of the environmental barcoding approach by comparing benthic macroinvertebrates from an urban region to those obtained from a conservation area. Although considerable effort will be required to robustly optimize NGS tools to identify species from bulk environmental samples, our results indicate the potential of an environmental barcoding approach for biomonitoring programs.
The potential to adapt to a changing climate depends in part upon the standing genetic variation present in wild populations. In corals, the dispersive larval phase is particularly vulnerable to the effects of environmental stress. Larval survival and response to stress during dispersal and settlement will play a key role in the persistence of coral populations.
To test the hypothesis that larval transcription profiles reflect location-specific responses to thermal stress, symbiont-free gametes from three to four colonies of the scleractinian coral Montastraea faveolata were collected from Florida and Mexico, fertilized, and raised under mean and elevated (up 1 to 2°C above summer mean) temperatures. These locations have been shown to exchange larvae frequently enough to prevent significant differentiation of neutral loci. Differences among 1,310 unigenes were simultaneously characterized using custom cDNA microarrays, allowing investigation of gene expression patterns among larvae generated from wild populations under stress. Results show both conserved and location-specific variation in key processes including apoptosis, cell structuring, adhesion and development, energy and protein metabolism, and response to stress, in embryos of a reef-building coral.
These results provide first insights into location-specific variation in gene expression in the face of gene flow, and support the hypothesis that coral host genomes may house adaptive potential needed to deal with changing environmental conditions.
Coral reefs are expected to be severely impacted by rising seawater temperatures associated with climate change. This study used cDNA microarrays to investigate transcriptional effects of thermal stress in embryos of the coral Montastraea faveolata. Embryos were exposed to 27.5°C, 29.0°C, and 31.5°C directly after fertilization. Differences in gene expression were measured after 12 and 48 hours.
Analysis of differentially expressed genes indicated that increased temperatures may lead to oxidative stress, apoptosis, and a structural reconfiguration of the cytoskeletal network. Metabolic processes were downregulated, and the action of histones and zinc finger-containing proteins may have played a role in the long-term regulation upon heat stress.
Embryos responded differently depending on exposure time and temperature level. Embryos showed expression of stress-related genes already at a temperature of 29.0°C, but seemed to be able to counteract the initial response over time. By contrast, embryos at 31.5°C displayed continuous expression of stress genes. The genes that played a role in the response to elevated temperatures consisted of both highly conserved and coral-specific genes. These genes might serve as a basis for research into coral-specific adaptations to stress responses and global climate change.
The amount of genomic sequence information continues to grow at an exponential rate, while the identification and characterization of genes without known homologs remains a major challenge. For non-model organisms with limited resources for manipulative studies, high-throughput transcriptomic data combined with bioinformatics methods provide a powerful approach to obtain initial insights into the function of unknown genes. In this study, we report the identification and characterization of a novel family of putatively secreted, small, cysteine-rich proteins herein named Small Cysteine-Rich Proteins (SCRiPs). Their discovery in expressed sequence tag (EST) libraries from the coral Montastraea faveolata required the performance of an iterative search strategy based on BLAST and Hidden-Markov-Model algorithms. While a discernible homolog could neither be identified in the genome of the sea anemone Nematostella vectensis, nor in a large EST dataset from the symbiotic sea anemone Aiptasia pallida, we identified SCRiP sequences in multiple scleractinian coral species. Therefore, we postulate that this gene family is an example of lineage-specific gene expansion in reef-building corals. Previously published gene expression microarray data suggest that a sub-group of SCRiPs is highly responsive to thermal stress. Furthermore, data from microarray experiments investigating developmental gene expression in the coral Acropora millepora suggest that different SCRiPs may play distinct roles in the development of corals. The function of these proteins remains to be elucidated, but our results from in silico, transcriptomic, and phylogenetic analyses provide initial insights into the evolution of SCRiPs, a novel, taxonomically restricted gene family that may be responsible for a lineage-specific trait in scleractinian corals.
The giant barrel sponge Xestospongiatestudinaria is an ecologically important species that is widely distributed across the Indo-Pacific. Little is known, however, about the precise biogeographic distribution and the amount of morphological and genetic variation in this species. Here we provide the first detailed, fine-scaled (<200 km2) study of the morphological and genetic composition of X. testudinaria around Lembeh Island, Indonesia. Two mitochondrial (CO1 and ATP6 genes) and one nuclear (ATP synthase β intron) DNA markers were used to assess genetic variation. We identified four distinct morphotypes of X. testudinaria around Lembeh Island. These morphotypes were genetically differentiated with both mitochondrial and nuclear markers. Our results indicate that giant barrel sponges around Lembeh Island, which were all morphologically identified as X. testudinaria, consist of at least two different lineages that appear to be reproductively isolated. The first lineage is represented by individuals with a digitate surface area, CO1 haplotype C5, and is most abundant around the harbor area of Bitung city. The second lineage is represented by individuals with a predominantly smooth surface area, CO1 haplotype C1 and can be found all around Lembeh Island, though to a lesser extent around the harbor of Bitung city. Our findings of two additional unique genetic lineages suggests the presence of an even broader species complex possibly containing more than two reproductively isolated species. The existence of X. testudinaria as a species complex is a surprising result given the size, abundance and conspicuousness of the sponge.
A major challenge in coral biology is to find the most adequate and phylogenetically informative characters that allow for distinction of closely related coral species. Therefore, data on corallite morphology and genetic data are often combined to increase phylogenetic resolution. In this study, we address the question to which degree genetic data and quantitative information on overall coral colony morphologies identify similar groupings within closely related morphospecies of the Caribbean coral genus Madracis. Such comparison of phylogenies based on colony morphology and genetic data will also provide insight into the degree to which genotype and phenotype overlap. We have measured morphological features of three closely related Caribbean coral species of the genus Madracis (M. formosa, M. decactis and M. carmabi). Morphological differences were then compared with phylogenies of the same species based on two nuclear DNA markers, i.e. ATPSα and SRP54. Our analysis showed that phylogenetic trees based on (macroscopical) morphological properties and phylogenetic trees based on DNA markers ATPSα and SRP54 are partially similar indicating that morphological characteristics at the colony level provide another axis, in addition to commonly used features such as corallite morphology and ecological information, to delineate genetically different coral species. We discuss this new method that allows systematic quantitative comparison between morphological characteristics of entire colonies and genetic data.
Recent advances in DNA sequencing technologies have allowed scientists to probe increasingly complex biological systems, including the diversity of bacteria in the environment. However, despite a multitude of recent studies incorporating these methods, many questions regarding how environmental samples should be collected and stored still persist. Here, we assess the impact of different soil storage conditions on microbial community composition using Illumina-based 16S rRNA V4 amplicon sequencing. Both storage time and temperature affected bacterial community composition and structure. Frozen samples maintained the highest alpha diversity and differed least in beta diversity, suggesting the utility of cold storage for maintaining consistent communities. Samples stored for intermediate times (three and seven days) had both the highest alpha diversity and the largest differences in overall beta diversity, showing the degree of community change after sample collection. These divergences notwithstanding, differences in neither storage time nor storage temperature substantially altered overall communities relative to more than 500 previously examined soil samples. These results systematically support previous studies and stress the importance of methodological consistency for accurate characterization and comparison of soil microbiological assemblages.
The endosymbiotic dinoflagellates (genus Symbiodinium) within coral reef invertebrates are critical to the survival of the holobiont. The genetic variability of Symbiodinium may contribute to the tolerance of the symbiotic association to elevated sea surface temperatures (SST). To assess the importance of factors such as the local environment, host identity and biogeography in driving Symbiodinium distributions on reef-wide scales, data from studies on reef invertebrate-Symbiodinium associations from the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) were compiled.
The resulting database consisted of 3717 entries from 26 studies. It was used to explore ecological patterns such as host-specificity and environmental drivers structuring community complexity using a multi-scalar approach. The data was analyzed in several ways: (i) frequently sampled host species were analyzed independently to investigate the influence of the environment on symbiont distributions, thereby excluding the influence of host specificity, (ii) host species distributions across sites were added as an environmental variable to determine the contribution of host identity on symbiont distribution, and (iii) data were pooled based on clade (broad genetic groups dividing the genus Symbiodinium) to investigate factors driving Symbiodinium distributions using lower taxonomic resolution. The results indicated that host species identity plays a dominant role in determining the distribution of Symbiodinium and environmental variables shape distributions on a host species-specific level. SST derived variables (especially SSTstdev) most often contributed to the selection of the best model. Clade level comparisons decreased the power of the predictive model indicating that it fails to incorporate the main drivers behind Symbiodinium distributions.
Including the influence of different host species on Symbiodinium distributional patterns improves our understanding of the drivers behind the complexity of Symbiodinium-invertebrate symbioses. This will increase our ability to generate realistic models estimating the risk reefs are exposed to and their resilience in response to a changing climate.
Overfishing and land-derived eutrophication are major local threats to coral reefs and may affect benthic communities, moving them from coral dominated reefs to algal dominated ones. The Central Red Sea is a highly under-investigated area, where healthy coral reefs are contending against intense coastal development. This in-situ study investigated both the independent and combined effects of manipulated inorganic nutrient enrichment (simulation of eutrophication) and herbivore exclosure (simulation of overfishing) on benthic algae development. Light-exposed and shaded terracotta tiles were positioned at an offshore patch reef close to Thuwal, Saudi Arabia and sampled over a period of 4 months. Findings revealed that nutrient enrichment alone affected neither algal dry mass nor algae-derived C or N production. In contrast, herbivore exclusion significantly increased algal dry mass up to 300-fold, and in conjunction with nutrient enrichment, this total increased to 500-fold. Though the increase in dry mass led to a 7 and 8-fold increase in organic C and N content, respectively, the algal C/N ratio (18±1) was significantly lowered in the combined treatment relative to controls (26±2). Furthermore, exclusion of herbivores significantly increased the relative abundance of filamentous algae on the light-exposed tiles and reduced crustose coralline algae and non-coralline red crusts on the shaded tiles. The combination of the herbivore exclusion and nutrient enrichment treatments pronounced these effects. The results of our study suggest that herbivore reduction, particularly when coupled with nutrient enrichment, favors non-calcifying, filamentous algae growth with high biomass production, which thoroughly outcompetes the encrusting (calcifying) algae that dominates in undisturbed conditions. These results suggest that the healthy reefs of the Central Red Sea may experience rapid shifts in benthic community composition with ensuing effects for biogeochemical cycles if anthropogenic impacts, particularly overfishing, are not controlled.
Dinoflagellates are a large group of algae that contribute significantly to marine productivity and are essential photosynthetic symbionts of corals. Although these algae have fully-functioning mitochondria and chloroplasts, both their organelle genomes have been highly reduced and the genes fragmented and rearranged, with many aberrant transcripts. However, nothing is known about their RNA polymerases. We cloned and sequenced the gene for the nuclear-encoded mitochondrial polymerase (RpoTm) of the dinoflagellate Heterocapsa triquetra and showed that the protein presequence targeted a GFP construct into yeast mitochondria. The gene belongs to a small gene family, which includes a variety of 3′-truncated copies that may have originated by retroposition. The catalytic C-terminal domain of the protein shares nine conserved sequence blocks with other single-subunit polymerases and is predicted to have the same fold as the human enzyme. However, the N-terminal (promoter binding/transcription initiation) domain is not well-conserved. In conjunction with the degenerate nature of the mitochondrial genome, this suggests a requirement for novel accessory factors to ensure the accurate production of functional mRNAs.
Understanding the mechanisms by which natural populations cope with environmental stress is paramount to predict their persistence in the face of escalating anthropogenic impacts. Reef-building corals are increasingly exposed to local and global stressors that alter nutritional status causing reduced fitness and mortality, however, these responses can vary considerably across species and populations.
We compare the expression of 22 coral host genes in individuals from an inshore and an offshore reef location using quantitative Reverse Transcription-PCR (qRT-PCR) over the course of 26 days following translocation into a shaded, filtered seawater environment. Declines in lipid content and PSII activity of the algal endosymbionts (Symbiodinium ITS-1 type C2) over the course of the experiment indicated that heterotrophic uptake and photosynthesis were limited, creating nutritional deprivation conditions. Regulation of coral host genes involved in metabolism, CO2 transport and oxidative stress could be detected already after five days, whereas PSII activity took twice as long to respond. Opposing expression trajectories of Tgl, which releases fatty acids from the triacylglycerol storage, and Dgat1, which catalyses the formation of triglycerides, indicate that the decline in lipid content can be attributed, at least in part, by mobilisation of triacylglycerol stores. Corals from the inshore location had initially higher lipid content and showed consistently elevated expression levels of two genes involved in metabolism (aldehyde dehydrogenase) and calcification (carbonic anhydrase).
Coral host gene expression adjusts rapidly upon change in nutritional conditions, and therefore can serve as an early signature of imminent coral stress. Consistent gene expression differences between populations indicate that corals acclimatize and/or adapt to local environments. Our results set the stage for analysis of these processes in natural coral populations, to better understand the responses of coral communities to global climate change and to develop more efficient management strategies.
Over the last few decades, sessile benthic organisms from the Mediterranean Sea have suffered from the global warming of the world's oceans, and several mass mortality events were observed during warm summers. It has been hypothesized that mortality could have been due to a nutrient (food) shortage following the stratification of the water column. However, the symbiotic gorgonian Eunicella singularis has also presented a locally exceptional mortality, despite its autotrophic capacities through the photosynthesis of its dinoflagellate symbionts. Thus, this study has experimentally investigated the response of E. singularis to a thermal stress (temperature increase from 18 to 26°C), with colonies maintained more than 2 months under four nutritional diets: autotrophy only (AO), autotrophy and inorganic nitrogen addition (AN), autotrophy and heterotrophy (AH), heterotrophy only (HO). At 18°C, and contrary to many other anthozoans, supplementation of autotrophy with either inorganic nitrogen or food (heterotrophy) had no effect on the rates of respiration, photosynthesis, as well as in the chlorophyll, lipid and protein content. In the dark, heterotrophy maintained the gorgonian's metabolism, except a bleaching (loss of pigments), which did not affect the rates of photosynthesis. At 24°C, rates of respiration, and photosynthesis significantly decreased in all treatments. At 26°C, in addition to a decrease in the lipid content of all treatments, a bleaching was observed after 1 week in the AO treatment, while the AH and AN treatments resisted three weeks before bleaching. These last results suggest that, temperatures above 24°C impair the energetic reserves of this species and might explain the mortality events in the Mediterranean.
In obligate symbioses, the host’s survival relies on the successful acquisition and maintenance of symbionts. Symbionts can either be transferred from parent to offspring via direct inheritance (vertical transmission) or acquired anew each generation from the environment (horizontal transmission). With vertical symbiont transmission, progeny benefit by not having to search for their obligate symbionts, and, with symbiont inheritance, a mechanism exists for perpetuating advantageous symbionts. But, if the progeny encounter an environment that differs from that of their parent, they may be disadvantaged if the inherited symbionts prove suboptimal. Conversely, while in horizontal symbiont acquisition host survival hinges on an unpredictable symbiont source, an individual host may acquire genetically diverse symbionts well suited to any given environment. In horizontal acquisition, however, a potentially advantageous symbiont will not be transmitted to subsequent generations. Adaptation in obligate symbioses may require mechanisms for both novel symbiont acquisition and symbiont inheritance. Using denaturing-gradient gel electrophoresis and real-time PCR, we identified the dinoflagellate symbionts (genus Symbiodinium) hosted by the Red Sea coral Stylophora pistillata throughout its ontogenesis and over depth. We present evidence that S. pistillata juvenile colonies may utilize both vertical and horizontal symbiont acquisition strategies. By releasing progeny with maternally derived symbionts, that are also capable of subsequent horizontal symbiont acquisition, coral colonies may acquire physiologically advantageous novel symbionts that are then perpetuated via vertical transmission to subsequent generations. With symbiont inheritance, natural selection can act upon the symbiotic variability, providing a mechanism for coral adaptation.
Acute catastrophic events can cause significant damage to marine environments in a short time period and may have devastating long-term impacts. In April 2010 the BP-operated Deepwater Horizon (DWH) offshore oil rig exploded, releasing an estimated 760 million liters of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. This study examines the potential effects of oil spill exposure on coral larvae of the Florida Keys. Larvae of the brooding coral, Porites astreoides, and the broadcast spawning coral, Montastraea faveolata, were exposed to multiple concentrations of BP Horizon source oil (crude, weathered and WAF), oil in combination with the dispersant Corexit® 9500 (CEWAF), and dispersant alone, and analyzed for behavior, settlement, and survival. Settlement and survival of P. astreoides and M. faveolata larvae decreased with increasing concentrations of WAF, CEWAF and Corexit® 9500, however the degree of the response varied by species and solution. P. astreoides larvae experienced decreased settlement and survival following exposure to 0.62 ppm source oil, while M. faveolata larvae were negatively impacted by 0.65, 1.34 and 1.5 ppm, suggesting that P. astreoides larvae may be more tolerant to WAF exposure than M. faveolata larvae. Exposure to medium and high concentrations of CEWAF (4.28/18.56 and 30.99/35.76 ppm) and dispersant Corexit® 9500 (50 and 100 ppm), significantly decreased larval settlement and survival for both species. Furthermore, exposure to Corexit® 9500 resulted in settlement failure and complete larval mortality after exposure to 50 and 100 ppm for M. faveolata and 100 ppm for P. astreoides. These results indicate that exposure of coral larvae to oil spill related contaminants, particularly the dispersant Corexit® 9500, has the potential to negatively impact coral settlement and survival, thereby affecting the resilience and recovery of coral reefs following exposure to oil and dispersants.
K-selected species with low rates of sexual recruitment may utilise storage effects where low adult mortality allows a number of individuals to persist through time until a favourable recruitment period occurs. Alternative methods of recruitment may become increasingly important for such species if the availability of favourable conditions for sexual recruitment decline under rising anthropogenic disturbance and climate change. Here, we test the hypotheses that asexual dispersal is an integral life history strategy not only in branching corals, as previously reported, but also in a columnar, ‘K-selected’ coral species, and that its prevalence is driven by the frequency of severe hurricane disturbance. Montastraea annularis is a long-lived major frame-work builder of Caribbean coral reefs but its survival is threatened by the consequences of climate induced disturbance, such as bleaching, ocean acidification and increased prevalence of disease. 700 M. annularis samples from 18 reefs within the Caribbean were genotyped using six polymorphic microsatellite loci. We demonstrate that asexual reproduction occurs at varying frequency across the species-range and significantly contributes to the local abundance of M. annularis, with its contribution increasing in areas with greater hurricane frequency. We tested several competing hypotheses that might explain the observed pattern of genotypic diversity. 64% of the variation in genotypic diversity among the sites was explained by hurricane incidence and reef slope, demonstrating that large-scale disturbances combine with local habitat characteristics to shape the balance between sexual and asexual reproduction in populations of M. annularis.
Mutualistic symbioses between scleractinian corals and endosymbiotic dinoflagellates (Symbiodinium spp.) are the foundation of coral reef ecosystems. For many coral-algal symbioses, prolonged episodes of thermal stress damage the symbiont's photosynthetic capability, resulting in its expulsion from the host. Despite the link between photosynthetic competency and symbiont expulsion, little is known about the effect of thermal stress on the expression of photosystem genes in Symbiodinium. This study used real-time PCR to monitor the transcript abundance of two important photosynthetic reaction center genes, psbA (encoding the D1 protein of photosystem II) and psaA (encoding the P700 protein of photosystem I), in four cultured isolates (representing ITS2-types A13, A20, B1, and F2) and two in hospite Symbiodinium spp. within the coral Pocillopora spp. (ITS2-types C1b-c and D1). Both cultured and in hospite Symbiodinium samples were exposed to elevated temperatures (32°C) over a 7-day period and examined for changes in photochemistry and transcript abundance. Symbiodinium A13 and C1b-c (both thermally sensitive) demonstrated significant declines in both psbA and psaA during the thermal stress treatment, whereas the transcript levels of the other Symbiodinium types remained stable. The downregulation of both core photosystem genes could be the result of several different physiological mechanisms, but may ultimately limit repair rates of photosynthetic proteins, rendering some Symbiodinium spp. especially susceptible to thermal stress.
The cosmopolitan solitary deep-water scleractinian coral Desmophyllum dianthus (Esper, 1794) was selected as a representative model species of the polyphyletic Caryophylliidae family to (1) examine phylogenetic relationships with respect to the principal Scleractinia taxa, (2) check population structure, (3) test the widespread connectivity hypothesis and (4) assess the utility of different nuclear and mitochondrial markers currently in use. To carry out these goals, DNA sequence data from nuclear (ITS and 28S) and mitochondrial (16S and COI) markers were analyzed for several coral species and for Mediterranean populations of D. dianthus. Three phylogenetic methodologies (ML, MP and BI), based on data from the four molecular markers, all supported D. dianthus as clearly belonging to the “robust” clade, in which the species Lophelia pertusa and D. dianthus not only grouped together, but also shared haplotypes for some DNA markers. Molecular results also showed shared haplotypes among D. dianthus populations distributed in regions separated by several thousands of kilometers and by clear geographic barriers. These results could reflect limited molecular and morphological taxonomic resolution rather than real widespread connectivity. Additional studies are needed in order to find molecular markers and morphological features able to disentangle the complex phylogenetic relationship in the Order Scleractinia and to differentiate isolated populations, thus avoiding the homoplasy found in some morphological characters that are still considered in the literature.
The effects of temperature and light on the breakdown of the coral-Symbiodinium symbiosis are well documented but current understanding of their roles during initial uptake and establishment of symbiosis is limited. In this study, we investigate how temperature and light affect the uptake of the algal symbionts, ITS1 types C1 and D, by juveniles of the broadcast-spawning corals Acropora tenuis and A. millepora. Elevated temperatures had a strong negative effect on Symbiodinium uptake in both coral species, with corals at 31°C showing as little as 8% uptake compared to 87% at 28°C. Juveniles in high light treatments (390 µmol photons m−2 s−1) had lower cell counts across all temperatures, emphasizing the importance of the light environment during the initial uptake phase. The proportions of the two Symbiodinium types taken up, as quantified by a real time PCR assay using clade C- and D-specific primers, were also influenced by temperature, although variation in uptake dynamics between the two coral species indicates a host effect. At 28°C, A. tenuis juveniles were dominated by C1 Symbiodinium, and while the number of D Symbiodinium cells increased at 31°C, they never exceeded the number of C1 cells. In contrast, juveniles of A. millepora had approximately equal numbers of C1 and D cells at 28°C, but were dominated by D at 30°C and 31°C. This study highlights the significant role that environmental factors play in the establishment of coral-Symbiodinium symbiosis and provides insights into how potentially competing Symbiodinium types take up residence in coral juveniles.