Embryonic development in two species of scleractinian coral embryos: Symbiodinium localization and mode of gastrulation

Evol Dev. Jul-Aug 2007;9(4):355-67. doi: 10.1111/j.1525-142X.2007.00173.x.


Reef-building scleractinian corals widely engage in symbiotic relationships with Symbiodinium dinoflagellates (zooxanthellae), which reside inside cells of the gastrodermis. In most cases, sexually produced larvae acquire their symbionts from the environment in the early developmental stages preceding settlement; however, some scleractinian corals maternally "seed" their oocytes with symbionts, and these symbionts are reported to be restricted to the gastrodermis at the time of its formation (gastrulation). A precise mechanism for how Symbiodinium are translocated to endoderm in these seeded species was previously unknown. In order to examine the process of endoderm formation and Symbiodinium localization during gastrulation, we have examined two species of "robust" clade scleractinians: Fungia scutaria (nonseeded) and Pocillopora meandrina (maternally seeded). We determined that both species, independent of whether or not they are seeded, undergo a "nutritive" stage before gastrulation, wherein lipid-rich cells (F. scutaria) or membrane-bound cellular fragments (P. meandrina) are passed to the blastocoel where they are subsequently taken up by the definitive endoderm. This emergent property of anthozoan development has been co-opted to facilitate the movement of Symbiodinium to the blastocoel (future site of endoderm), in the seeded species, where they are later phagocytosed by the newly formed definitive endoderm. Additionally, both species of robust clade scleractinians examined gastrulate by way of invagination, as do the majority of anthozoans. This invagination differs from the prawn chip-type gastrulation seen in the complex clade corals and provides evidence for a possible linkage between gastrulation type and phylogenetic history.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anthozoa / embryology*
  • Anthozoa / parasitology*
  • Body Patterning / physiology
  • Dinoflagellida / physiology*
  • Gastrula / parasitology*
  • Symbiosis / physiology*