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  1. Unlike reef-building, scleractinian corals, Caribbean soft corals (octocorals) have not suffered marked declines in abundance associated with anthropogenic ocean warming. Both octocorals and reef-building scleractinians depend on a nutritional symbiosis with single-celled algae living within their tissues. In both groups, increased ocean temperatures can induce symbiont loss (bleaching) and coral death. Multiple heat waves from 2014 to 2016 resulted in widespread damage to reef ecosystems and provided an opportunity to examine the bleaching response of three Caribbean octocoral species. Symbiont densities declined during the heat waves but recovered quickly, and colony mortality was low. The dominant symbiont genotypes within a host generally did not change, and all colonies hosted symbiont species in the genusBreviolum.Their association with thermally tolerant symbionts likely contributes to the octocoral holobiont’s resistance to mortality and the resilience of their symbiont populations. The resistance and resilience of Caribbean octocorals offer clues for the future of coral reefs.

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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available November 24, 2024
  2. Abstract Background Symbionts provide a variety of reproductive, nutritional, and defensive resources to their hosts, but those resources can vary depending on symbiont community composition. As genetic techniques open our eyes to the breadth of symbiont diversity within myriad microbiomes, symbiosis research has begun to consider what ecological mechanisms affect the identity and relative abundance of symbiont species and how this community structure impacts resource exchange among partners. Here, we manipulated the in hospite density and relative ratio of two species of coral endosymbionts ( Symbiodinium microadriaticum and Breviolum minutum ) and used stable isotope enrichment to trace nutrient exchange with the host, Briareum asbestinum . Results The patterns of uptake and translocation of carbon and nitrogen varied with both density and ratio of symbionts. Once a density threshold was reached, carbon acquisition decreased with increasing proportions of S. microadriaticum . In hosts dominated by B. minutum , nitrogen uptake was density independent and intermediate. Conversely, for those corals dominated by S. microadriaticum , nitrogen uptake decreased as densities increased, and as a result, these hosts had the overall highest (at low density) and lowest (at high density) nitrogen enrichment. Conclusions Our findings show that the uptake and sharing of nutrients was strongly dependent on both the density of symbionts within the host, as well as which symbiont species was dominant. Together, these complex interactive effects suggest that host regulation and the repression of in hospite symbiont competition can ultimately lead to a more productive mutualism. 
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  3. Abstract

    As coral reefs face warming oceans and increased coral bleaching, a whitening of the coral due to loss of microalgal endosymbionts, the possibility of evolutionary rescue offers some hope for reef persistence. In tightly linked mutualisms, evolutionary rescue may occur through evolution of the host and/or endosymbionts. Many obligate mutualisms are composed of relatively small, fast-growing symbionts with greater potential to evolve on ecologically relevant time scales than their relatively large, slower growing hosts. Numerous jellyfish species harbor closely related endosymbiont taxa to other cnidarian species such as coral, and are commonly used as a model system for investigating cnidarian mutualisms. We examined the potential for adaptation of the upside-down jellyfishCassiopea xamachanato increased temperature via evolution of its microalgal endosymbiont,Symbiodinium microadriaticum. We quantified trait variation among five algal genotypes in response to three temperatures (26 °C, 30 °C, and 32 °C) and fitness of hosts infected with each genotype. All genotypes showed positive growth rates at each temperature, but rates of respiration and photosynthesis decreased with increased temperature. Responses varied among genotypes but were unrelated to genetic similarity. The effect of temperature on asexual reproduction and the timing of development in the host also depended on the genotype of the symbiont. Natural selection could favor different algal genotypes at different temperatures, affecting host fitness. This eco-evolutionary interaction may be a critical component of understanding species resilience in increasingly stressful environments.

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  4. Abstract

    In many cases, understanding species’ responses to climate change requires understanding variation among individuals in response to such change. For species with strong symbiotic relationships, such as many coral reef species, genetic variation in symbiont responses to temperature may affect the response to increased ocean temperatures. To assess variation among symbiont genotypes, we examined the population dynamics and physiological responses of genotypes ofBreviolum antillogorgiumin response to increased temperature. We found broad temperature tolerance across genotypes, with all genotypes showing positive growth at 26, 30, and 32°C. Genotypes differed in the magnitude of the response of growth rate and carrying capacity to increasing temperature, suggesting that natural selection could favor different genotypes at different temperatures. However, the historical temperature at which genotypes were reared (26 or 30°C) was not a good predictor of contemporary temperature response. We found increased photosynthetic rates and decreased respiration rates with increasing contemporary temperature, and differences in physiology among genotypes, but found no significant differences in the response of these traits to temperature among genotypes. In species with such broad thermal tolerance, selection experiments on symbionts outside of the host may not yield results sufficient for evolutionary rescue from climate change.

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  5. Abstract Coral reef ecosystems are under threat from the frequent and severe impacts of anthropogenic climate change, particularly rising sea surface temperatures. The effects of thermal stress may be ameliorated by adaptation and/or acclimation of the host, symbiont, or holobiont (host + symbiont) to increased temperatures. We examined the role of the symbiont in promoting thermal tolerance of the holobiont, using Antillogorgia bipinnata (octocoral host) and Breviolum antillogorgium (symbiont) as a model system. We identified five distinct genotypes of B. antillogorgium from symbiont populations isolated from Antillogorgia colonies in the Florida Keys. Three symbiont genotypes were cultured and maintained at 26 °C (ambient historical temperature), and two were cultured and maintained at 30 °C (elevated historical temperature) for 2 yrs. We analyzed the growth rate and carrying capacity of each symbiont genotype at both ambient and elevated temperatures in culture (in vitro). All genotypes grew well at both temperatures, indicating that thermal tolerance exists among these B. antillogorgium cultures. However, a history of long-term growth at 30 °C did not yield better performance for B. antillogorgium at 30 °C (as compared to 26 °C), suggesting that prior culturing at the elevated temperature did not result in increased thermal tolerance. We then inoculated juvenile A. bipinnata polyps with each of the five symbiont genotypes and reared these polyps at both ambient and elevated temperatures ( in hospite experiment). All genotypes established symbioses with polyps in both temperature treatments. Survivorship of polyps at 30 °C was significantly lower than survivorship at 26 °C, but all treatments had surviving polyps at 56 d post-infection. Our results suggest broad thermal tolerance in B. antillogorgium, which may play a part in the increased resilience of Caribbean octocorals during heat stress events. 
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  6. null (Ed.)
    Abstract Octocorals are conspicuous members of coral reefs and deep-sea ecosystems. Yet, species boundaries and taxonomic relationships within this group remain poorly understood, hindering our understanding of this essential component of the marine fauna. We used a multifaceted approach to revisit the systematics of the Caribbean octocorals Plexaura homomalla and Plexaura kükenthali , two taxa that have a long history of taxonomic revisions. We integrated morphological and reproductive analyses with high-throughput sequencing technology to clarify the relationship between these common gorgonians. Although size and shape of the sclerites are significantly different, there is overlap in the distributions making identification based on sclerites alone difficult. Differences in reproductive timing and mode of larval development were detected, suggesting possible mechanisms of pre-zygotic isolation. Furthermore, there are substantial genetic differences and clear separation of the two species in nuclear introns and single-nucleotide polymorphisms obtained from de novo assembled transcriptomes. Despite these differences, analyses with SNPs suggest that hybridization is still possible between the two groups. The two nascent species also differed in their symbiont communities (genus Breviolum ) across multiple sampling sites in the Caribbean. Despite a complicated history of taxonomic revisions, our results support the differentiation of P. homomalla and P. kükenthali, emphasizing that integrative approaches are essential for Anthozoan systematics. 
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  7. Abstract

    The symbiotic relationship between dinoflagellate algae in the family Symbiodiniaceae and scleractinian corals forms the base of the tropical reef ecosystem. In scleractinian corals, recruits acquire symbionts either “vertically” from the maternal colony or initially lack symbionts and acquire them “horizontally” from the environment. Regardless of the mode of acquisition, coral species and individual colonies harbor only a subset of the highly diverse complex of species/taxa within the Symbiodiniaceae. This suggests a genetic basis for specificity, but local environmental conditions and/or symbiont availability may also play a role in determining which symbionts within the Symbiodiniaceae are initially taken up by the host. To address the relative importance of genetic and environmental drivers of symbiont uptake/establishment, we examined the acquisition of these dinoflagellate symbionts in one to three‐month‐old recruits ofOrbicella faveolatato compare symbiont types present in recruits to those of parental populations versus co‐occurring adults in their destination reef. Variation in chloroplast 23S ribosomal DNA and in three polymorphic microsatellite loci was examined. We found that, in general, symbiont communities within adult colonies differed between reefs, suggesting that endemism is common among symbiont populations ofO. faveolataon a local scale. Among recruits, initial symbiont acquisition was selective.O. faveolatarecruits only acquired a subset of locally available symbionts, and these generally did not reflect symbiont populations in adults at either the parental or the outplant reef. Instead, symbiont communities within new recruits at a given outplant site and region tended to be similar to each other, regardless of parental source population. These results suggest temporal variation in the local symbiont source pool, although other possible drivers behind the distinct difference between symbionts withinO. faveolataadults and new generations of recruits may include different ontogenetic requirements and/or reduced host selectivity in early ontogeny.

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  8. Within microeukaryotes, genetic variation and functional variation sometimes accumulate more quickly than morphological differences. To understand the evolutionary history and ecology of such lineages, it is key to examine diversity at multiple levels of organization. In the dinoflagellate family Symbiodiniaceae, which can form endosymbioses with cnidarians (e.g., corals, octocorals, sea anemones, jellyfish), other marine invertebrates (e.g., sponges, molluscs, flatworms), and protists (e.g., foraminifera), molecular data have been used extensively over the past three decades to describe phenotypes and to make evolutionary and ecological inferences. Despite advances in Symbiodiniaceae genomics, a lack of consensus among researchers with respect to interpreting genetic data has slowed progress in the field and acted as a barrier to reconciling observations. Here, we identify key challenges regarding the assessment and interpretation of Symbiodiniaceae genetic diversity across three levels: species, populations, and communities. We summarize areas of agreement and highlight techniques and approaches that are broadly accepted. In areas where debate remains, we identify unresolved issues and discuss technologies and approaches that can help to fill knowledge gaps related to genetic and phenotypic diversity. We also discuss ways to stimulate progress, in particular by fostering a more inclusive and collaborative research community. We hope that this perspective will inspire and accelerate coral reef science by serving as a resource to those designing experiments, publishing research, and applying for funding related to Symbiodiniaceae and their symbiotic partnerships. 
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  9. Abstract

    Host species often support a genetically diverse guild of symbionts, the identity and performance of which can determine holobiont fitness under particular environmental conditions. These symbiont communities are structured by a complex set of potential interactions, both positive and negative, between the host and symbionts and among symbionts. In reef‐building corals, stable associations with specific symbiont species are common, and we hypothesize that this is partly due to ecological mechanisms, such as succession and competition, which drive patterns of symbiont winnowing in the initial colonization of new generations of coral recruits. We tested this hypothesis using the experimental framework of the de Wit replacement series and found that competitive interactions occurred among symbionts which were characterized by unique ecological strategies. Aposymbiotic octocoral recruits within high‐ and low‐light environments were inoculated with one of three Symbiodiniaceae species as monocultures or with cross‐paired mixtures, and we tracked symbiont uptake using quantitative genetic assays. Priority effects, in which early colonizers excluded competitive dominants, were evidenced under low light, but these early opportunistic species were later succeeded by competitive dominants. Under high light, a more consistent competitive hierarchy was established in which competitive dominants outgrew and limited the abundance of others. These findings provide insight into mechanisms of microbial community organization and symbiosis breakdown and recovery. Furthermore, transitions in competitive outcomes across spatial and temporal environmental variation may improve lifetime host fitness.

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