Symbiodinium population genetics: testing for species boundaries and analysing samples with mixed genotypes

Drew C. Wham, Todd C. LaJeunesse

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debatepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Population genetic markers are increasingly being used to study the diversity, ecology and evolution of Symbiodinium, a group of eukaryotic microbes that are often mutualistic with reef-building corals. Population genetic markers can resolve individual clones, or strains, from samples of host tissue; however, samples may comprise different species that may confound interpretations of gene flow and genetic structure. Here, we propose a method for resolving species from population genetic data using tests for genetic recombination. Assigning individuals to genetically recombining populations prior to further analyses avoids critical errors in the interpretation of gene flow and dispersal. To demonstrate the effectiveness of the approach, we first apply this method to a simulated data set. We then use the method to resolve two species of host generalist Symbiodinium that commonly co-occur in reef-building corals collected from Indo-West Pacific reefs. We demonstrate that the method is robust even when some hosts contain genotypes from two distinct species. Finally, we examine population genetic data sets from two recently published papers in Molecular Ecology. We show that each strongly supports a two species interpretation, which significantly changes the original conclusions presented in these studies. When combined with available phylogenetic and ecological evidence, the use of population genetic data offers a robust method for unambiguously delimiting morphologically cryptic species.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2699-2712
Number of pages14
JournalMolecular ecology
Issue number12
StatePublished - Jun 1 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics


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