MEPS - Vol. 321 - Feature article

Most corals host only one zooxanthella clade and do not change their algae, neither over time, nor after exposure to elevated temperatures, disease, or following transplantation. Photo: Denis Goulet

Goulet TL

 

Most corals may not change their symbionts

 

Can corals survive global warming by changing their symbionts? Coral species hosting multiple algal groups (zooxanthella clades) may change their symbionts; these corals, however, are in the minority. A meta-analysis of 442 coral species reveals that 77% host only 1 zooxanthella clade and exhibit within-clade fidelity. These corals do not change their algae, neither over time, nor after exposure to elevated temperatures, disease, or following transplantation. These corals probably cannot switch their symbionts and will survive only if the existing host–symbiont combination withstands new conditions. If climate change continues, coral reefs may undergo a reduction in biodiversity, because only a subset of corals may survive.

 

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