Symbiotic interactions are common and important in a wide variety of plant and animal communities. Among the more complex symbioses is the mutualism between benthic marine invertebrates, especially cnidarians, and photosynthetic dinoflagellate algae (zooxanthellae or Symbiodinium). This type of symbiosis has had a key role in the formation of an important marine ecosystem, the coral reef. In this mutualism, the algae are intracellular symbionts of their cnidarian hosts. The symbiosis between scleractinian corals and their zooxanthellae is highly susceptible to changes in environmental factors such as elevated seawater temperature and/or elevated light levels. Global warming has impacted coral reefs worldwide by causing the disruption of these symbioses (coral bleaching), causing many corals to subsequently die. It is now urgent to gain a better understanding of the molecular and cellular interactions that are critical to the functional integrity of these symbioses.
We are studying coral symbiosis by using microarray expression profiling to identify genes and cellular pathways involved in host-zooxanthellae interactions in theMontastraea faveolata and Acropora palmata mutualistic systems from Caribbean tropical reef areas. This research is an attempt to look at this important mutualistic relationship using a genome wide analysis of gene expression. This project is a large collaborative effort with Alina Szmant (UNC Wilmington) and Mary Alice Coffroth (SUNY Buffalo).