Bongaerts et al. 2015

scientific article | R Soc Open Sci | open access

Prevalent endosymbiont zonation shapes the depth distributions of scleractinian coral species

Bongaerts P, Carmichael M, Hay KB, Tonk L, Frade PR, Hoegh-Guldberg O


Bathymetric distributions of photosynthetic marine invertebrate species are relatively well studied, however the importance of symbiont zonation (i.e. hosting of distinct algal endosymbiont communities over depth) in determining these depth distributions still remains unclear. Here, we assess the prevalence of symbiont zonation in tropical scleractinian corals by genotyping the Symbiodinium of the 25 most common species over a large depth range (down to 60 m) on a Caribbean reef. Symbiont depth zonation was found to be common on a reef-wide scale (11 outof 25 coral species), and a dominant feature in species with the widest depth distributions. With regards to reproductive strategy, symbiont zonation was more common in broadcasting species, which also exhibited a higher level of polymorphism in the symbiont zonation (i.e. number of different Symbiodinium profiles involved). Species with symbiont zonation exhibited significantly broader depth distributions than those without,highlighting the role of symbiont zonation in shaping the vertical distributions of the coral host. Overall, the results demonstrate that coral reefs can consist of highly structured communities over depth when considering both the coral host and their obligate photosymbionts, which probably has strong implications for the extent of connectivity between shallow and mesophotic habitats.

Research sites
Depth range
1- 62 m

Mesophotic “mentions”
26 x (total of 5610 words)

* Presents original data
* Focused on 'mesophotic' depth range
* Focused on 'mesophotic coral ecosystem'

Community structure
Molecular ecology

Scleractinia (Hard Corals)
Symbiodinium (zooxanthellae)


SCUBA (open-circuit or unspecified)

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