MEPS 533:149-161 (2015)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps11365

Niche acclimatization in Red Sea corals is dependent on flexibility of host-symbiont association

Maren Ziegler1,2,3, Cornelia Roder1, Claudia Büchel2, Christian R. Voolstra1,*

1Red Sea Research Center, Division of Biological and Environmental Science and Engineering, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, 23955-6900 Thuwal, Saudi Arabia
2Institute of Molecular Biosciences, Department of Biosciences, Goethe University Frankfurt, Max-von-Laue-Straße 9, 60438 Frankfurt am Main, Germany
3Ichthyology Section, Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum, Senckenberganlage 25, 60325 Frankfurt am Main, Germany
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Knowledge of host-symbiont specificity and acclimatization capacity of corals is crucial for understanding implications of environmental change. Whilst some corals have been shown to associate with a number of symbionts that may comprise different physiologies, most corals associate with only one dominant Symbiodinium species at a time. Coral communities in the Red Sea thrive under large fluctuations of environmental conditions, but the degree and mechanisms of coral acclimatization are largely unexplored. Here we investigated the potential for niche acclimatization in 2 dominant corals from the central Red Sea, Pocillopora verrucosa and Porites lutea, in relation to the fidelity of the underlying coral-symbiont association. Repeated sampling over 2 seasons along a cross-shelf and depth gradient revealed a stable symbiont association in P. verrucosa and flexible association in P. lutea. A statistical biological-environmental matching routine revealed that the high plasticity of photophysiology and photopigments in the stable Symbiodinium microadriaticum (type A1) community in P. verrucosa were correlated with environmental influences along spatio-temporal dimensions. In contrast, photophysiology and pigments were less variable within each symbiont type from P. lutea indicating that niche acclimatization was rather regulated by a flexible association with a variable Symbiodinium community. Based on these data, we advocate an extended concept of phenotypic plasticity of the coral holobiont, in which the scleractinian host either associates with a specific Symbiodinium type with a broad physiological tolerance, or the host-symbiont pairing is more flexible to accommodate for different symbiont associations, each adapted to specific environmental settings.


KEY WORDS: Phenotypic plasticity · Symbiodinium · Symbiosis · Acclimatization · Coral reef · Red Sea · Pocillopora verrucosa · Porites lutea


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Cite this article as: Ziegler M, Roder C, Büchel C, Voolstra CR (2015) Niche acclimatization in Red Sea corals is dependent on flexibility of host-symbiont association. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 533:149-161. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps11365

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