Coral Reefs

, Volume 38, Issue 1, pp 123–136 | Cite as

Elevated Symbiodiniaceae richness at Atauro Island (Timor-Leste): a highly biodiverse reef system

  • Joshua I. Brian
  • Simon K. DavyEmail author
  • Shaun P. Wilkinson


To persist in oligotrophic waters, reef-building corals rely on nutritional interactions with symbiotic dinoflagellates of the family Symbiodiniaceae, but the true diversity of this family remains poorly characterised. In this paper, we assess Symbiodiniaceae richness at Atauro Island (Timor-Leste) as well as on reefs of the neighbouring Timor mainland, using direct sequencing of three gene regions: cob gene, mitochondrion; ITS2 region, nucleus; and psbAncr region, chloroplast; in addition to a highly multiplexed application of next-generation sequencing. These geographic sites are among the most biodiverse in the world, but have never had their symbiont communities studied. Despite their proximity, our results reveal symbiont richness 1.25 times higher at Atauro Island than the Timor mainland, a result evident in dominant sequences. In contrast, Timor had a significantly richer background sequence diversity. Although sampling was restricted to shallow sites only, symbiont richness at Atauro Island was also higher than comparative reefscapes globally, after standardising for number of taxa sampled. While Atauro and Timor have related symbiont populations, with the same novel types recorded at both sites, there were also clear differences in symbiont composition between the two geographic regions, with Timor displaying a consortium more characteristic of stressed reef environments (proportionally hosting twice as many Durusdinium sequences, formerly clade D, as Atauro). These results reveal a symbiont richness that matches the high biodiversity of these reefs, but also potentially negative effects of proximal human populations on Symbiodiniaceae, even when previous studies have shown corals to be largely unaffected.


Amplicon sequence variant Cladocopium Durusdinium Next-generation sequencing Symbiodinium Symbiosis 



This research was supported by a William Georgetti Scholarship awarded to JIB, and a Rutherford Postdoctoral Fellowship awarded to SPW. All biological samples were collected with the permission of the government of Timor-Leste (Ministerio da Agricultura e Pescas, permit number LNC-PC0012.VI.16). The fieldwork component of this research was conducted with the assistance of Barry Hinton, Ricardo Ximenes Marquez, Kevin Austen and Alice Wilkinson, and the laboratory component with the assistance of Grace Newson and Charlotte Völkel. We are very grateful for three anonymous reviewers, whose comments greatly improved the quality of this manuscript.

Author contributions

JIB, SPW and SKD conceived the study. JIB and SPW carried out fieldwork. JIB performed laboratory analysis. JIB and SPW analysed and interpreted the data. JIB, SPW and SKD wrote the paper.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

338_2018_1762_MOESM1_ESM.docx (36 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 35 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Joshua I. Brian
    • 1
  • Simon K. Davy
    • 1
    Email author
  • Shaun P. Wilkinson
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Biological SciencesVictoria University of WellingtonWellingtonNew Zealand

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