• coral;
  • cp23S;
  • dinoflagellate;
  • ITS-2;
  • Symbiodinium

Many scleractinian corals must acquire their endosymbiotic dinoflagellates (genus Symbiodinium) anew each generation from environmental pools, and exchange between endosymbiotic and environmental pools of Symbiodinium (reef waters and sediments) has been proposed as a mechanism for optimizing coral physiology in the face of environmental change. Our understanding of the diversity of Symbiodinium spp. in environmental pools is poor by comparison to that engaged in endosymbiosis, which reflects the challenges of visualizing the genus against the backdrop of the complex and diverse micro-eukaryotic communities found free-living in the environment. Here, the molecular diversity of Symbiodinium living in the waters and sediments of a reef near Coconut Island, O‘ahu, Hawai‘i, sampled at four hourly intervals over a period of 5 d was characterized using a Symbiodinium-specific hypervariable region of the chloroplast 23S. A comparison of Symbiodinium spp. diversity recovered from environmental samples with the endosymbiotic diversity in coral species that dominate the adjacent reef revealed limited overlap between these communities. These data suggest that the potential for infection, exchange, and/or repopulation of corals with Symbiodinium derived from the environment is limited at this location, a finding that is perhaps consistent with the high proportion of coral species in this geographic region that transmit endosymbionts from generation to generation.