Synthesizing Molecular and Ecological Datasets to Evaluate How Diversity in Coral Endosymbiont Communities (Symbiodinium) Maps Onto Environmental Sensitivity in Corals

Principal Investigator(s): 

Ruth Gates - Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, University of Hawaii

Climate change-related increases in seawater temperature pose a serious threat to the world’s coral reefs. A key conservation issue, and research priority, is understanding how corals and coral reef ecosystems will respond to these environmental shifts. Changes in the composition of coral endosymbiont (Symbiodinium spp.) communities have been proposed as a mechanism by which corals might adapt to elevated seawater conditions in a time frame concordant with the rates of environmental change. As a sabbatical fellow at NCEAS, I will develop the capacity to examine the biological support for this proposed adaptive trait by synthesizing ecological data on coral responses to thermal stress with molecular diversity data for coral endosymbiont communities. A major product of this effort will be a spatially contextualized Global Symbiodinium Database and Mapping Website that will provide an interface for any Internet user to perform text-based or spatial queries. This powerful tool will then be used to examine how thermal history has influenced the present day global composition of coral endosymbiont associations; and also to evaluate whether corals ranked by ecological environmental sensitivity exhibit differences in the nature and composition of their endosymbiont communities that are predictable within rank. The results of these analyses will be the subject of a review article styled for Biological Reviews or Coral Reefs.

More information about this research project and participants.