The Occurrence of Mixed Infections of Symbiodinium (Dinoflagellata) within Individual Hosts


  • Scott A. Fay,

    Corresponding author
    • Berkeley Initiative in Global Change Biology, University of California, Berkeley, California, USA
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  • Michele X. Weber

    1. Quantitative and Systems Biology, University of California Merced, Merced, California, USA
    2. Instituto de Ciencias del Mar y Limnología, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Cancún, México
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Author for correspondence: e-mail


Coral reef ecosystems depend on symbiosis between dinoflagellates of the genus Symbiodinium Freudenthal and their various hosts. The physiological characteristics associated with a particular lineage or species of Symbiodinium can determine a host's susceptibility to harmful bleaching. Therefore, the threat posed by global climate change on a host may be reduced if it can switch or shuffle its dominant algal symbiont type. An important prerequisite to this potential to switch or shuffle is the ability to host multiple alternative dominant symbiont genotypes. To examine the distribution of this trait, we review reports of mixed Symbiodinium infections in corals and nonscleractinian hosts from a phylogenetic perspective. Hosts showing evidence of mixed infection are broadly distributed across the most deeply divergent host lineages, including foraminifera, mollusks, sponges, and cnidarians. The occurrence of mixed infections is also broadly distributed across most clades of scleractinian corals. Individual colonies of certain well-studied cosmopolitan coral genera, such as Acropora, Montastraea, and Pocillopora, yield many reports of mixed infection, while other genera, such as Porites, do not. We further discuss mixed Symbiodinium infections in the context of evolutionary ecology theory. Selection pressures that affect the prevalence of mixed infection may be exerted by variation in host environment, host ontogeny, symbiont transmission strategy, host regulation of symbiont populations, availability of free-living symbiont lineages, competition between symbiont lineages, and niche partitioning of the internal host environment.