Lemon damselfish and acropora | Photo: Daniel Ortiz, ZMT

The survival of many ecological communities relies on the symbiotic relationships formed by various organisms. An example of a symbiotic association that is often described as mutualistic is the one between corals and algae. This association is based on the exchange of photosynthetically fixed carbon from algae to corals and inorganic nutrients, acquired from animal waste metabolites or directly from seawater, from corals to algae. The evolution of this symbiotic relationship has enabled the emergence of highly productive and diverse coral reef ecosystems in nutrient-poor waters of the tropical oceans.

In this project, we developed an adaptive, trait-based model to describe the temporal dynamics of this association. Given that corals control the flux of inorganic nutrients to the algae, we focus on the adaptation of a hypothetical trait expressed by the coral population: investment of energy in the symbiotic relationship. Investment of energy produces losses for the corals that reflect costs for algal photosynthetic efficiency and for sustaining and maintaining the symbiont population.

Project Partner

Prof. Dr. Christian Wild (University of Bremen)