Building consensus around the assessment and interpretation of Symbiodiniaceae diversity

PeerJ. 2023 May 2;11:e15023. doi: 10.7717/peerj.15023. eCollection 2023.


Within microeukaryotes, genetic variation and functional variation sometimes accumulate more quickly than morphological differences. To understand the evolutionary history and ecology of such lineages, it is key to examine diversity at multiple levels of organization. In the dinoflagellate family Symbiodiniaceae, which can form endosymbioses with cnidarians (e.g., corals, octocorals, sea anemones, jellyfish), other marine invertebrates (e.g., sponges, molluscs, flatworms), and protists (e.g., foraminifera), molecular data have been used extensively over the past three decades to describe phenotypes and to make evolutionary and ecological inferences. Despite advances in Symbiodiniaceae genomics, a lack of consensus among researchers with respect to interpreting genetic data has slowed progress in the field and acted as a barrier to reconciling observations. Here, we identify key challenges regarding the assessment and interpretation of Symbiodiniaceae genetic diversity across three levels: species, populations, and communities. We summarize areas of agreement and highlight techniques and approaches that are broadly accepted. In areas where debate remains, we identify unresolved issues and discuss technologies and approaches that can help to fill knowledge gaps related to genetic and phenotypic diversity. We also discuss ways to stimulate progress, in particular by fostering a more inclusive and collaborative research community. We hope that this perspective will inspire and accelerate coral reef science by serving as a resource to those designing experiments, publishing research, and applying for funding related to Symbiodiniaceae and their symbiotic partnerships.

Keywords: Cnidarian; Collaborative; Community; Coral; Genetic diversity; ITS2; Population; Species; Symbiodiniaceae; Symbiosis.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anthozoa* / genetics
  • Consensus
  • Coral Reefs
  • Dinoflagellida* / genetics
  • Sea Anemones*

Grant support

Funding for the virtual workshop during which the content of this manuscript was developed was provided by the National Science Foundation Division of Biological Oceanography (OCE 2127506; 2127514; and 2127508 to Sarah W. Davies, Adrienne M. S. Correa, and John Everett Parkinson, respectively). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.