The roles and interactions of symbiont, host and environment in defining coral fitness

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Mieog, JC, Olsen, JL, Berkelmans, R, Bleuler-Martinez, SA, Willis, BL & van Oppen, MJH 2009, 'The roles and interactions of symbiont, host and environment in defining coral fitness', PLoS One, vol. 4, no. 7.

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Background: Reef-building corals live in symbiosis with a diverse range of dinoflagellate algae (genus Symbiodinium) that differentially influence the fitness of the coral holobiont. The comparative role of symbiont type in holobiont fitness in relation to host genotype or the environment, however, is largely unknown. We addressed this knowledge gap by manipulating host-symbiont combinations and comparing growth, survival and thermal tolerance among the resultant holobionts in different environments. Methodology/Principal Findings: Offspring of the coral, Acropora millepora, from two thermally contrasting locations, were experimentally infected with one of six Symbiodinium types, which spanned three phylogenetic clades (A, C and D), and then outplanted to the two parental field locations (central and southern inshore Great Barrier Reef, Australia). Growth and survival of juvenile corals were monitored for 31–35 weeks, after which their thermo-tolerance was experimentally assessed. Our results showed that: (1) Symbiodinium type was the most important predictor of holobiont fitness, as measured by growth, survival, and thermo-tolerance; (2) growth and survival, but not heat-tolerance, were also affected by local environmental conditions; and (3) host population had little to no effect on holobiont fitness. Furthermore, coral-algal associations were established with symbiont types belonging to clades A, C and D, but three out of four symbiont types belonging to clade C failed to establish a symbiosis. Associations with clade A had the lowest fitness and were unstable in the field. Lastly, Symbiodinium types C1 and D were found to be relatively thermo-tolerant, with type D conferring the highest tolerance in A. millepora. Conclusions/Significance: These results highlight the complex interactions that occur between the coral host, the algal symbiont, and the environment to shape the fitness of the coral holobiont. An improved understanding of the factors affecting coral holobiont fitness will assist in predicting the responses of corals to global climate change.

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