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Mol Ecol. 2007 Nov;16(22):4849-57. Epub 2007 Sep 14.

Functional significance of genetically different symbiotic algae Symbiodinium in a coral reef symbiosis.

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Department of Biology (Area 2), University of York, York YO10 5YW, UK.


The giant sea anemone Condylactis gigantea associates with members of two clades of the dinoflagellate alga Symbiodinium, either singly or in mixed infection, as revealed by clade-specific quantitative polymerase chain reaction of large subunit ribosomal DNA. To explore the functional significance of this molecular variation, the fate of photosynthetically fixed carbon was investigated by (14)C radiotracer experiments. Symbioses with algae of clades A and B released ca. 30-40% of fixed carbon to the animal tissues. Incorporation into the lipid fraction and the low molecular weight fraction dominated by amino acids was significantly higher in symbioses with algae of clade A than of clade B, suggesting that the genetically different algae in C. gigantea are not functionally equivalent. Symbioses with mixed infections yielded intermediate values, such that this functional trait of the symbiosis can be predicted from the traits of the contributing algae. Coral and sea anemone symbioses with Symbiodinium break down at elevated temperature, a process known as 'coral bleaching'. The functional response of the C. gigantea symbiosis to heat stress varied between the algae of clades A and B, with particularly depressed incorporation of photosynthetic carbon into lipid of the clade B algae, which are more susceptible to high temperature than the algae of clade A. This study provides a first exploration of how the core symbiotic function of photosynthate transfer to the host varies with the genotype of Symbiodinium, an algal symbiont which underpins corals and, hence, coral reef ecosystems.

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