Symbiodinium and Symbioses

Symbiodinium are the endosymbiotic algae living with the coral tissues that provide corals with the energy they use to build coral reefs. When corals “bleach”, they lose these algal partners in response to stress, which can lead to coral mortality. High diversity within the genus Symbiodinium, and differences in the benefits they provide their hosts, may explain some of the variation we see in coral performance and stress tolerance, and thus understanding these symbioses is key to understanding the future of coral reefs.

Projects and Activities

We are examining Symbiodinium diversity and function using a variety of approaches including: 

1) Experimental biology and ecophysiology

Edmunds, PJ, Putnam HM and Gates RD (2012). Photophysiological consequences of vertical stratification of Symbiodinium in tissue of the coral Porites lutea. Biological Bulletin 223(2): 226-235.

2) Quantification of algal clades and coral ecology
Cunning R, Ritson-Williams R, and Gates RD. Patterns of bleaching and recovery of Montipora capitata in Kaneohe Bay. In Review
Putnam HM, Stat M, Pochon X and Gates RD (2012) Endosymbiotic flexibility associates with environmental sensitivity in scleractinian corals. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 279 (1746):4352-4361.

3) Describing symbiont communities using amplicon sequencing
Cunning R, Yost D, Guarinello M, Putnam HM, and Gates RD. Variability of Symbiodinium communities in waters, sediments, and corals of thermally distinct reef pools in American Samoa. Accepted at Plos ONE
Edmunds PJ, Pochon X, Levitan DR, Yost DM, Belcaid M, Putnam HM, Gates RD (2014) Long-term changes in Symbiodinium communities in Orbicella annularis in St. John, US Virgin Islands. MEPS 506:129-144. OPEN ACCESS:

4) Characterizing global Symbiodinium diversity and distribution patterns using meta-analysis and network modeling

Fabina NS, Putnam HM, Franklin EC, Stat M and Gates RD (2013) Symbiotic specificity, association patterns, and function determine community responses to global changes: Defining critical research areas for coral Symbiodinium symbioses. Global Change Biology 19(11): 3301-3316.

Fabina NS, Putnam HM, Franklin EC, Stat M, Gates RD (2012) Transmission mode predicts specificity and interaction patterns in coral-Symbiodinium networks. PLoS ONE 7(9): e44970
Franklin EC, Stat M, Pochon X, Putnam HM and Gates RD (2012) GeoSymbio: A hybrid, cloud-based web application of global geospatial bioinformatics and ecoinformatics for Symbiodinium-host symbioses. Molecular Ecology Resources 12(2): 369-373.

5) Examining functional response to enviornmental change

Keeling PJ, Burki F, Wilcox HM, Allam B, Allen EE, et al. (2014) The Marine Microbial Eukaryote Transcriptome Sequencing Project (MMETSP): Illuminating the functional diversity of eukaryotic life in the oceans through transcriptome sequencing. PLoS Biol 12(6): e1001889. OPEN ACCESS:

Confocal Microscopy

Funding Agencies