Coral evolutionary responses to microbial symbioses

Madeleine J.H. Van Oppen, Mónica Medina

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


This review explores how microbial symbioses may have influenced and continue to influence the evolution of reef-building corals (Cnidaria; Scleractinia). The coral holobiont comprises a diverse microbiome including dinoflagellate algae (Dinophyceae; Symbiodiniaceae), bacteria, archaea, fungi and viruses, but here we focus on the Symbiodiniaceae as knowledge of the impact of other microbial symbionts on coral evolution is scant. Symbiosis with Symbiodiniaceae has extended the coral's metabolic capacity through metabolic handoffs and horizontal gene transfer (HGT) and has contributed to the ecological success of these iconic organisms. It necessitated the prior existence or the evolution of a series of adaptations of the host to attract and select the right symbionts, to provide them with a suitable environment and to remove disfunctional symbionts. Signatures of microbial symbiosis in the coral genome include HGT from Symbiodiniaceae and bacteria, gene family expansions, and a broad repertoire of oxidative stress response and innate immunity genes. Symbiosis with Symbiodiniaceae has permitted corals to occupy oligotrophic waters as the algae provide most corals with the majority of their nutrition. However, the coral-Symbiodiniaceae symbiosis is sensitive to climate warming, which disrupts this intimate relationship, causing coral bleaching, mortality and a worldwide decline of coral reefs. This article is part of the theme issue 'The role of the microbiome in host evolution'.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20190591
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1808
StatePublished - Sep 28 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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