The promiscuous larvae: Flexibility in the establishment of symbiosis in corals

V. R. Cumbo, A. H. Baird, M. J H van Oppen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

56 Citations (Scopus)


Coral reefs thrive in part because of the symbiotic partnership between corals and Symbiodinium. While this partnership is one of the keys to the success of coral reef ecosystems, surprisingly little is known about many aspects of coral symbiosis, in particular the establishment and development of symbiosis in host species that acquire symbionts anew in each generation. More specifically, the point at which symbiosis is established (i. e., larva vs. juvenile) remains uncertain, as does the source of free-living Symbiodinium in the environment. In addition, the capacity of host and symbiont to form novel combinations is unknown. To explore patterns of initial association between host and symbiont, larvae of two species of Acropora were exposed to sediment collected from three locations on the Great Barrier Reef. A high proportion of larvae established symbiosis shortly after contact with sediments, and Acropora larvae were promiscuous, taking up multiple types of Symbiodinium. The Symbiodinium types acquired from the sediments reflected the symbiont assemblage within a wide range of cnidarian hosts at each of the three sites, suggesting potential regional differences in the free-living Symbiodinium assemblage. Coral larvae clearly have the capacity to take up Symbiodinium prior to settlement, and sediment is a likely source. Promiscuous larvae allow species to associate with Symbiodinium appropriate for potentially novel environments that may be experienced following dispersal.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)111-120
Number of pages10
JournalCoral Reefs
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2013
Externally publishedYes


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