Flexibility in Algal Endosymbioses Shapes Growth in Reef Corals

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Abstract

The relation between corals and their algal endosymbionts has been a key to the success of scleractinian (stony) corals as modern reef-builders, but little is known about early stages in the establishment of the symbiosis. Here, we show that initial uptake of zooxanthellae by juvenile corals during natural infection is nonspecific (a potentially adaptive trait); the association is flexible and characterized by a change in (dominant) zooxanthella strains over time; and growth rates of experimentally infected coral holobionts are partly contingent on the zooxanthella strain harbored, with clade C-infected juveniles growing two to three times as fast as those infected with clade D.

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