Honolulu, HI A new indicator of coral health has been discovered in a community of microscopic single-celled algae called dinoflagellates. The study, released in the July 8th edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reveals that a particular type of these algae renders corals more susceptible to disease.
"Corals are fascinating organisms whose survival is dependent on dinoflagellates that live inside the coral's tissue," says lead author Michael Stat, an assistant researcher at the Hawaii Institute for Marine Biology (HIMB) at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. "The relationship between these dinoflagellates and corals has long been considered mutually beneficial, with the dinoflagellates supplying the coral with food via photosynthesis in return for recycled nutrients and shelter. Over the last 20 years it has been made clear that there are many different types of dinoflagellates in corals and that the unions or symbiosis between a given coral and their dinoflagellates can be very specific."
It had previously been considered that all dinoflagellates found in coral are equally beneficial to their coral host, but in this study Stat, along with HIMB researchers Ruth Gates and Emily Morris, present evidence that a particular type of dinoflagellate can be found in corals that are diseased or show evidence of having had a disease.
"We show that this same symbiont, called "clade A", does not produce as much food that can be used by the coral as other types of coral dinoflagellates," says Stat. "We suggest that because these coral are not receiving enough food they become more prone to disease."
The researchers sampled corals that appeared healthy and corals that appeared diseased from French Frigate Shoals in the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI). By using genetic analyses, they were able to identify the type of dinoflagellate that
|Contact: Tara Hicks|
University of Hawaii at Manoa