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Interactions between corals and their symbiotic algae

Author(s): Muller-Parker G, D’Elia CF, Cook CB

Abstract

The mutualistic relationship between corals and their dinoflagellate endosymbionts is a key factor in the evolutionary success of hermatypic (reef building) corals. The endosymbiotic algae benefit corals in numerous ways that have contributed to the long term persistence of coral reefs over geologic time. In this chapter we review ecological and physiological aspects of the interactions between corals and their symbiotic algae in light of recent advances in our knowledge of the diversity of these symbionts. While the role of symbiont diversity in promoting coral survival during environmental bleaching events has been a major focus of recent research, its importance in other physiological and ecological contexts such as inorganic nutrient dynamics and photosynthetic carbon fluxes has received much less attention. We suggest that cost-benefit analysis is a useful approach to examine these symbioses in the context of environmental change and human impacts upon corals and coral reefs. Weighing the costs versus the benefits of the symbiotic association under specific environmental perturbations has potential for use as an indicator of the health of not only corals but indeed the whole coral reef ecosystem. Drastic changes in the stability of the symbiosis, evidenced by changes in the ratio of zooxanthellae to animal biomass in corals, may turn out to be a useful diagnostic indicator of stresses to coral reefs. By using new tools developed to assess the stability of the symbiosis, we may be better able to understand and predict the effects of future stressors and perturbations that threaten these beautiful reef ecosystems.

KeywordsCost-benefitStabilityHolobiontBleachingCalcification

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