Symbiont Diversity of Zooxanthellae (Symbiodinium spp.) in Porites astreoides and Montastraea cavernosa from a Reciprocal Transplant in the Lower Florida Keys

Briana Hauff, Joshua A. Haslun, Kevin B. Strychar, Peggy H. Ostrom, James M. Cervino


In recent years, coral reefs worldwide have suffered high mortality rates due to coral bleaching, a phenomenon contributing to a 40% decrease in coral cover in the Florida Keys since the 1997/98 El Niño event. In the Florida Keys, coral from inshore reefs are known to be more thermotolerant than their conspecifics from offshore reefs but the mechanism behind this difference is unclear. In this study we conducted a two-year, reciprocal transplant of Porites astreoides and Montastraea cavernosa from an inshore and offshore reef in the lower Florida Keys to determine if changes in the dominant symbiotic algae (Symbiodinium spp.) could explain variation in holobiont tolerance as well as to assess the possibility of acclimatization to a changing stress regime. Increased complexity and diversity was demonstrated in the composition of Symbiodinium spp. from both coral species collected at the offshore reef when compared to conspecifics collected inshore. As a result of this complexity, the offshore reef samples displayed higher numbers of transitions of zooxanthellae subclade types between seasons, while inshore fragments demonstrated more stability and may explain previously measured thermotolerance. Additionally, the known thermotolerant subclade type D1 was associated with one M. cavernosa fragment from the inshore reef. When fragments were transplanted, compositional patterns of Symbiodinium spp. were retained from site of collection, indicating a lack of acclimatization to a new environment over the lengthy two-year experiment. These results demonstrate variability in the dominant Symbiodinium spp. of P. astreoides and M. cavernosa conspecifics from inshore and offshore reefs in the lower Florida Keys and point to possible patterns in holobiont thermotolerance. This variability may be key to the continued persistence of these species in the face of climate change, but future studies are needed to determine the mechanisms and range in which these subclade types withstand thermal stress.

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