Bathymetric distributions of photosynthetic marine invertebrate species are relatively well studied, however the importance of symbiont zonation (i.e. hosting of distinct algal endosymbiont communities over depth) in determining these depth distributions still remains unclear. Here, we assess the prevalence of symbiont zonation in tropical scleractinian corals by genotyping the Symbiodinium of the 25 most common species over a large depth range (down to 60 m) on a Caribbean reef. Symbiont depth zonation was found to be common on a reef-wide scale (11 out of 25 coral species), and a dominant feature in species with the widest depth distributions. With regards to reproductive strategy, symbiont zonation was more common in broadcasting species, which also exhibited a higher level of polymorphism in the symbiont zonation (i.e. number of different Symbiodinium profiles involved). Species with symbiont zonation exhibited significantly broader depth distributions than those without, highlighting the role of symbiont zonation in shaping the vertical distributions of the coral host. Overall, the results demonstrate that coral reefs can consist of highly structured communities over depth when considering both the coral host and their obligate photosymbionts, which probably has strong implications for the extent of connectivity between shallow and mesophotic habitats.
Background: Scleractinian corals and their algal endosymbionts (genus Symbiodinium) exhibit distinct bathymetric distributions on coral reefs. Yet, few studies have assessed the evolutionary context of these ecological distributions by exploring the genetic diversity of closely related coral species and their associated Symbiodinium over large depth ranges. Here we assess the distribution and genetic diversity of five agariciid coral species (Agaricia humilis, A. agaricites, A. lamarcki, A. grahamae, and Helioseris cucullata) and their algal endosymbionts (Symbiodinium) across a large depth gradient (2-60 m) covering shallow to mesophotic depths on a Caribbean reef.
Results: The five agariciid species exhibited distinct depth distributions, and dominant Symbiodinium associations were found to be species-specific, with each of the agariciid species harbouring a distinct ITS2-DGGE profile (except for a shared profile between A. lamarcki and A. grahamae). Only A. lamarcki harboured different Symbiodinium types across its depth distribution (i.e. exhibited symbiont zonation). Phylogenetic analysis (atp6) of the coral hosts demonstrated a division of the Agaricia genus into two major lineages that correspond to their bathymetric distribution (“shallow”: A. humilis / A. agaricites and “deep”: A. lamarcki / A. grahamae), highlighting the role of depth-related factors in the diversification of these congeneric agariciid species. The divergence between “shallow” and “deep” host species was reflected in the relatedness of the associated Symbiodinium (with A. lamarcki and A. grahamae sharing an identical Symbiodinium profile, and A. humilis and A. agaricites harbouring a related ITS2 sequence in their Symbiodinium profiles), corroborating the notion that brooding corals and their Symbiodinium are engaged in coevolutionary processes.
Conclusions: Our findings support the hypothesis that the depth-related environmental gradient on reefs has played an important role in the diversification of the genus Agaricia and their associated Symbiodinium, resulting in a genetic segregation between coral host-symbiont communities at shallow and mesophotic depths.
The ability of coral reefs to recover from natural and anthropogenic disturbance is difficult to predict, in part due to uncertainty regarding the dispersal capabilities and connectivity of their reef inhabitants. We developed microsatellite markers for the broadcast spawning gorgonian octocoral Eunicea (Plexaura) flexuosa (four markers) and its dinoflagellate symbiont, Symbiodinium B1 (five markers), and used them to assess genetic connectivity, specificity and directionality of gene flow among sites in Florida, Panama, Saba and the Dominican Republic. Bayesian analyses found that most E. flexuosa from the Florida reef tract, Saba and the Dominican Republic were strongly differentiated from many E. flexuosa in Panama, with the exception of five colonies from Key West that clustered with colonies from Panama. In contrast, Symbiodinium B1 was more highly structured. At least seven populations were detected that showed patterns of isolation by distance. The symbionts in the five unusual Key West colonies also clustered with symbionts from Panama, suggesting these colonies are the result of long-distance dispersal. Migration rate tests indicated a weak signal of northward immigration from the Panama population into the lower Florida Keys. As E. flexuosa clonemates only rarely associated with the same Symbiodinium B1 genotype (and vice versa), these data suggest a dynamic host–symbiont relationship in which E. flexuosa is relatively well dispersed but likely acquires Symbiodinium B1 from highly struc- tured natal areas prior to dispersal. Once vectored by host larvae, these symbionts may then spread through the local population, and/or host colonies may acquire different local symbiont genotypes over time.