Large miliolid foraminifers of the subfamily Soritinae bear symbiotic dinoflagellates morphologically similar to the species of the "Symbiodinium" complex, commonly found in corals and other marine invertebrates. Soritid foraminifers are abundant in coral reefs and it has been proposed that they share their symbionts with other dinoflagellate-bearing reef dwellers. In order to test this hypothesis, we have analysed partial large subunit ribosomal DNA sequences from dinoflagellates symbionts obtained from 28 foraminiferal specimens, and compared them to the corresponding sequences of Symbiodinium-like endosymbionts from various groups of invertebrates. Phylogenetic analysis of our data shows that all soritid symbionts belong to the "Symbiodinium" species complex, within which they form seven different molecular types (Frl-Fr7). Only one of these types (Fr1) branches within a group of invertebrate symbionts, previously described as type C. The remaining six types form sister groups to coral symbionts previously designed as types B, C, and D. Our data indicate a high genetic diversity and specificity of Symbiodinium-like symbionts in soritids. Except for type C, we have found no evidence for the transmission of symbionts between foraminifers and other symbiont-bearing invertebrates from the same localities. However, exchanges must have occurred frequently between the different species of Soritinae, as suggested by the lack of host specificity and some biogeographical patterns observed in symbiont distribution. Our data suggest that members of the subfamily Soritinae acquired their symbionts at least three times during their history, each acquisition being followed by a rapid diversification and independent radiation of symbionts within the foraminiferal hosts.
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