Newly Described Symbiodinium Species Toughens–Up Corals to Endure Warming Oceans

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Researchers at Penn State have identified a new species of stress-tolerant Symbiodinium. A paper recently published in Phycologia describes the ecological and geographical distribution of Symbiodinium glynnii, how it differs from other stress-tolerant symbiont species, and its capacity to spread to places around the Pacific and live with different coral hosts.

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Phycologia, Volume 56, Issue 4

It’s good to finally assign a name to this organism, which will allow scientists to better communicate about its biology and ecology

Phycologia – Global climate change has increased water temperatures in the world’s oceans, often causing mass coral bleaching and mortality, which harms not only corals, but also the vast ecosystems they support. Using innovative methods, researchers at Penn State have identified a new species of stress-tolerant Symbiodinium, a genus of alga that occurs mutualistically with corals in a partnership that promotes the health and growth of coral reef ecosystems.

The team’s paper, which appears in the most recent issue of Phycologia, also describes the ecological and geographical distribution of Symbiodinium glynnii, how it differs from other stress-tolerant symbiont species, and its capacity to spread to places around the Pacific and live with different coral hosts.

According to Todd LaJeunesse, associate professor at Penn State, the alga, which he named Symbiodinium glynnii, is common among the pocilloporid and montiporid corals that dominate the warm or variable environments of the Pacific Ocean. “Symbiodinium glynnii is a highly abundant species in the Eastern Pacific, which explains, in part, why Pocillopora colonies dominate the coral communities over this broad and environmentally heterogeneous region,” said LaJeunesse. “Specific corals with this species of algal symbiont are physiologically robust and can withstand conditions that would be too extreme for coral colonies harboring other kinds of symbiont."

The researchers relied primarily on genetic evidence gathered from the analysis of hundreds of samples obtained from around the Pacific Ocean, including near Mexico, Panama, the Galapagos Islands, the Phoenix Islands, Hawaii, and Palau. The team also examined samples from aquarium collections. DNA sequences, microsatellite genotyping, host associations, cell sizes and other traits were used—for the first-time ever—to implement machine learning as a proof of concept to use computer programs in the future to unambiguously identify species that are normally hard to distinguish.

“We have been studying this coral symbiont for years and how it can significantly change the thermal tolerance of the coral colony in which it resides,” said LaJeunesse. “It’s good to finally assign a name to this organism, which will allow scientists to better communicate about its biology and ecology, and therefore, accelerate progress in our field. Ultimately, the study of these stress-tolerant symbionts will help us to learn about what adaptations, or traits, may allow some reef-corals to live in a harsher world.”

Full text of the article, “Symbiodinium glynnii sp. nov., a species of stress-tolerant symbiotic dinoflagellates from pocilloporid and montiporid corals in the Pacific Ocean.” Phycologia, Vol. 56, No. 4, 2017, is available at http://www.phycologia.org/doi/full/10.2216/16-86.1.

About Phycologia
Phycologia is published bimonthly by the International Phycological Society and serves as a publishing medium for information about any aspect of phycology, basic or applied, including biochemistry, cell biology, developmental biology, ecology, evolution, genetics, molecular biology, physiology, and systematics. Learn more about the society at http://www.intphycsoc.org/.

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Caitlyn Ziegler
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