map of satelite view of earth with red dots along tropical coastal areas

A new application created by a team of researchers from UH Mānoa’s Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology makes comprehensive biological and ecosystem information on symbiotic zooxanthellae called Symbiodinium widely available online to researchers for the first time.

Symbiodinium algae under microscope appearing like red balls with dark spots

Symbiodinium in 3D laser scanning confocal image by Michael Stat

Symbiodinium are uni-cellular, photosynthetic dinoflagellates that live inside the cells of other marine organisms such as anemones, jellyfish and corals. The symbiotic organisms provide energy to their coral hosts, thereby driving the deposit of calcium carbonate that builds coral reefs. Responses of corals and Symbiodinium to environmental stressors have important implications for the resiliency of coral reef ecosystems to climate change.

The HIMB team’s GeoSymbio hybrid web application features an interactive global map of corals along with genetic identification and taxonomic description of more than 400 distinct Symbiodinium subclades, or genetic lineages, in invertebrate hosts from a variety of marine habitats.

HIMB Junior Specialist Erik Franklin presented the web-based tool at the Environmental Information Management conference in September.

“Building the capacity to examine the diversity of Symbiodinium on coral reefs has global and societal implications for tropical nations,” said Franklin. “Dissemination of this information is essential.”

GeoSymbio provides geographic details of records that were not well documented or easily accessible in previous databases, he said. GeoSymbio represents the first tool for discovering, exploring, visualizing and sharing data on Symbiodinium ecology, diversity and geography in a rapid, cost-effective and engaging manner that is freely accessible and searchable by the public.

Erik Franklin, Michael Stat, Xavier Pochon, Hollie Putnam and Ruth Gates standing on dock

Team members from left, Franklin, Stat, Pochon, Putnam and Gates

The project compiles Symbiodinium ITS2 sequence information, identifies redundant entries, summarizes the attribute information for all sequences, identifies the geospatial location and temporal information of the specimen collection and disseminates the data through the website.

Working with Franklin on the HIMB project team were colleagues from the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology Michael Stat, Xavier Pochon, Hollie Putnam and Ruth Gates.

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