Symbiodinium Associations with Diseased and Healthy Scleractinian Corals

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Despite recent advances in identifying the causative agents of disease in corals and understanding the impact of epizootics on reef communities, little is known regarding the interactions among diseases, corals, and their dinoflagellate endosymbionts (Symbiodinium spp.). Since the genotypes of both corals and their resident Symbiodinium contribute to colony-level phenotypes, such as thermotolerance, symbiont genotypes might also contribute to the resistance or susceptibility of coral colonies to disease. To explore this, Symbiodinium were identified using the internal transcribed spacer-2 region of ribosomal DNA from diseased and healthy tissues within individual coral colonies infected with black band disease (BB), dark spot syndrome (DSS), white plague disease (WP), or yellow blotch disease (YB) in the Florida Keys (USA) and the US Virgin Islands. Most of the diseased colonies sampled contained B1, B5a, or C1 (depending on host species), while apparently healthy colonies of the same coral species frequently hosted these types and/or additional symbiont diversity. No potentially ‘‘parasitic’’ Symbiodinium types,uniquely associated with diseased coral tissue, were detected. Within most individual colonies, the same dominant Symbiodinium type was detected in diseased and visually healthy tissues. These data indicate that specific Symbiodinium types are not correlated with the infected tissues of diseased colonies and that DSS and WP onset do not trigger symbiont shuffling within infected tissues. However, few diseased colonies contained clade D symbionts suggesting a negative correlation between hosting Symbiodinium clade D and disease incidence in scleractinian corals. Understanding the influence of Symbiodinium diversity on colony phenotypes may play a critical role in predicting disease resistance and susceptibility in scleractinian corals.