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 Author for correspondence and present address: e-mail Plant Cell Biology Group, Research School of Biological Sciences, The Australian National University, Canberra 2601 ACT, Australia.


We previously reported the occurrence of genetically-diverse symbiotic dinoflagellates (zooxanthellae) within and between 7 giant clam species (Tridacnidae) from the Philippines based on the algal isolates' allozyme and random amplified polymorphic DNA (RAPD) patterns. We also reported that these isolates all belong to clade A of the Symbiodinium phylogeny with identical 18S rDNA sequences. Here we extend the genetic characterization of Symbiodinium isolates from giant clams and propose that they are conspecific. We used the combined DNA sequences of the internal transcribed spacer (ITS)1, 5.8S rDNA, and ITS2 regions (rDNA-ITS region) because the ITS1 and ITS2 regions evolve faster than 18S rDNA and have been shown to be useful in distinguishing strains of other dinoflagellates. DGGE of the most variable segment of the rDNA-ITS region, ITS1, from clonal representatives of clades A, B, and C showed minimal intragenomic variation. The rDNA-ITS region shows similar phylogenetic relationships between Symbiodinium isolates from symbiotic bivalves and some cnidarians as does 18S rDNA, and that there are not many different clade A species or strains among cultured zooxanthellae (CZ) from giant clams. The CZ from giant clams had virtually identical sequences, with only a single nucleotide difference in the ITS2 region separating two groups of isolates. These data suggest that there is one CZ species and perhaps two CZ strains, each CZ strain containing individuals that have diverse allozyme and RAPD genotypes. The CZ isolated from giant clams from different areas in the Philippines (21 isolates, 7 clam species), the Australian Great Barrier Reef (1 isolate, 1 clam species), Palau (8 isolates, 7 clam species), and Okinawa, Japan (1 isolate, 1 clam species) shared the same rDNA-ITS sequences. Furthermore, analysis of fresh isolates from giant clams collected from these geographical areas shows that these bivalves also host indistinguishable clade C symbionts. These data demonstrate that conspecific Symbiodinium genotypes, particularly clade A symbionts, are distributed in giant clams throughout the Indo-Pacific.