Marine Biology

, Volume 154, Issue 5, pp 795–804 | Cite as

Symbiont specificity and bleaching susceptibility among soft corals in the 1998 Great Barrier Reef mass coral bleaching event

  • Tamar L. GouletEmail author
  • Todd C. LaJeunesse
  • Katharina E. Fabricius
Original Paper


Considerable variability in bleaching was observed within and among soft coral taxa in the order Alcyonacea (Octocorallia: Cnidaria) on the central Great Barrier Reef (GBR, latitude 18.2°–19.0°S, longitude 146.4°–147.3°E) during the 1998 mass coral bleaching event. In April 1998, during a period of high sea surface temperatures, tissue samples were taken from bleached and unbleached colonies representative of 17 soft coral genera. The genetic identities of intracellular dinoflagellates (Symbiodinium spp.) in these samples were analyzed using PCR-denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis fingerprinting analysis of the internal transcribed spacer regions 1 and 2. Alcyonaceans from the GBR exhibited a high level of symbiont specificity for Symbiodinium types mostly in clade C. A rare clade D type (D3) was associated only with Clavularia koellikeri, while Nephthea sp. hosted symbionts in clade B (B1n and B36). Homogenous Symbiodinium clade populations were detected in all but one colony. Colonies that appeared bleached possessed symbiont types that were genetically indistinguishable from those in nonbleached conspecifics. These data suggest that parameters other than the resident endosymbionts such as host identity and colony acclimatization are important in determining bleaching susceptibility among soft corals.


Internal Transcribe Spacer Great Barrier Reef Soft Coral Scleractinian Coral Symbiodinium Type 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We thank L. Dixon and C. Simmons for assistance with DNA extractions, and D. Goulet and four anonymous reviewers for reading this manuscript. Many thanks also to J. Davidson for processing the videotapes and to K. Michalek-Wagner for help with the field collections. This contribution was made possible from funding provided by the Department of Biology and the University of Mississippi (T.L. Goulet), National Science Foundation (IOB 544854 T.C. LaJeunesse), Florida International University (T.C. LaJeunesse), and the Australian Institute of Marine Science (K.E. Fabricius).

Supplementary material

227_2008_972_MOESM1_ESM.doc (80 kb)
Supplementary Table (DOC 81 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Tamar L. Goulet
    • 1
    Email author
  • Todd C. LaJeunesse
    • 2
  • Katharina E. Fabricius
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of BiologyUniversity of MississippiUniversityUSA
  2. 2.Department of BiologyPennsylvania State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA
  3. 3.Australian Institute of Marine Science, PMB 3QLDAustralia

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