Costs and benefits of maternally inherited algal symbionts in coral larvae

Many marine invertebrates provide their offspring with symbionts. Yet the consequences of maternally inherited symbionts on larval fitness remain largely unexplored. In the stony coral Favia fragum (Esper 1797), mothers produce larvae with highly variable amounts of endosymbiotic algae, and we examined the implications of this variation in symbiont density on the performance of F. fragum larvae under different environmental scenarios. High symbiont densities prolonged the period that larvae actively swam and searched for suitable settlement habitats. Thermal stress reduced survival and settlement success in F. fragum larvae, whereby larvae with high symbiont densities suffered more from non-lethal stress and were five times more likely to die compared with larvae with low symbiont densities. These results show that maternally inherited algal symbionts can be either beneficial or harmful to coral larvae depending on the environmental conditions at hand, and suggest that F. fragum mothers use a bet-hedging strategy to minimize risks associated with spatio-temporal variability in their offspring's environment.

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