Episymbiotic microbes as food and defence for marine isopods : unique symbioses in a hostile environment
Barber, Paul H.
Weisz, Jeremy B.
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KeywordCoral reefs; Chemical defence; Cyanobacteria; Defensive symbiosis; Marine isopods; Molecular phylogenetics
Symbioses profoundly affect the diversity of life, often through novel biochemical services that symbionts provide to their hosts. These biochemical services are typically nutritional enhancements and less commonly defensive, but rarely both simultaneously. On the coral reefs of Papua New Guinea, we discovered unique associations between marine isopod crustaceans (Santia spp.) and episymbiotic microbes. Transmission electron microscopy and pigment analyses show that episymbiont biomass is dominated by large (20–30μm) cyanobacterial cells. The isopods consume these photosymbionts and ‘cultivate’ them by inhabiting exposed sunlit substrates, a behaviour made possible by symbionts' production of a chemical defence that is repulsive to fishes. Molecular phylogenetic analyses demonstrated that the symbiotic microbial communities are diverse and probably dominated in terms of population size by bacteria and small unicellular Synechococcus-type cyanobacteria. Although largely unknown in the oceans, defensive symbioses probably promote marine biodiversity by allowing niche expansions into otherwise hostile environments.
Author Posting. © Royal Society, 2005. This article is posted here by permission of Royal Society for personal use, not for redistribution. The definitive version was published in Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B 272 (2005): 1209-1216, doi:10.1098/rspb.2005.3082.
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