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Coral reef ecosystems, one of the most biodiverse habitats in the world, owe their success to obligate mutualistic symbioses involving invertebrates and photosynthetic dinoflagellate symbionts. These single-celled algae, commonly referred to as zooxanthellae and predominantly belonging to the genus Symbiodinium, establish relationships with numerous hosts, including representatives of the Protists, Porifera, Cnidaria, and Mollusca. In most cases the algae are intracellular, but some invertebrates harbor their symbionts intercellularly. Given the oligotrophic nature of waters surrounding coral reefs, it comes as no surprise that the basis of the symbiosis is nutritional, with the dinoflagellates playing a significant role in host nourishment and physiology. For the scleractinian corals, whose skeletons comprise the physical structure of reefs, the presence of algal symbionts also influences calcification rate in a positive manner. The Santos Lab examines the fine-scale diversity, population structure, biogeography and genomic evolution of Symbiodinium from a number of host species. Currently, the lab is focusing on cultured isolates, the pandemic anemone Aiptasia spp. and Caribbean scleractinian corals in the genus Montastraea as systems for studying host-microbe ecology and evolution.

Picture gallery of Symbiodinium

 

 

 

Auburn University Symbiodinium culture collection

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