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Disaster taxa in microbially mediated metazoans: how endosymbionts and environmental catastrophes influence the adaptive capacity of reef corals

Authors

  • ADRIENNE M. S. CORREA,

    1. Department of Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology, Columbia University, MC 5557, 1200 Amsterdam Avenue, New York, NY 10027, USA
    2. Division of Marine Biology and Fisheries, Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, University of Miami, 4600 Rickenbacker Cswy., Miami, FL 33149, USA
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  • ANDREW C. BAKER

    1. Division of Marine Biology and Fisheries, Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, University of Miami, 4600 Rickenbacker Cswy., Miami, FL 33149, USA
    2. Wildlife Conservation Society, Marine Program, 2300 Southern Boulevard, Bronx, NY 10460, USA
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A. M. S. Correa, Department of Biological Sciences, Florida International University, 3000 NE 151st St., North Miami, FL 33181, USA, tel. +1 786 390 3667, fax +1 305 919 4030, e-mail: adymscorrea@gmail.com

Abstract

Reef corals are examples of metazoans that engage in mutualisms with a variety of microorganisms, including dinoflagellates, Bacteria, Archaea, and viruses. The high adaptive capacity of these microbial symbionts can be co-opted by their coral hosts, and various emergent traits of these associations, such as thermotolerance, are undergoing strong selection due to climate change. This selection may spur the rise of microbial ‘disaster taxa’: opportunistic, cosmopolitan generalists that can proliferate and increase host survivorship following disturbances. Coral bleaching (a stress-induced loss of dinoflagellates) constitutes one type of catastrophic disturbance for resident symbiont communities, and opens novel patches of host for colonization by microbial disaster taxa. Moreover, the compartmentalization of microbial symbionts within coral polyps reduces their effective population size and thus facilitates the spread of disaster taxa during times of environmental change. These phenomena suggest that, despite widespread loss of coral cover as a result of climate disturbances, the potential spread of resilient microbial disaster taxa in surviving colonies can have important implications for coral reef persistence over the coming decades.

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