Host-finding behaviour and navigation capabilities of symbiotic zooxanthellae

Zohar Pasternak*, Bernd Blasius, Avigdor Abelson, Yair Achituv

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Past studies have shown that the initiation of symbiosis between the Red-Sea soft coral Heteroxenia fuscescens and its symbiotic dinoflagellates occurs due to the chemical attraction of the motile algal cells to substances emanating from the coral polyps. However, the resulting swimming patterns of zooxanthellae have not been previously studied. This work examined algal swimming behaviour, host location and navigation capabilities under four conditions: (1) still water, (2) in still water with waterborne host attractants, (3) in flowing water, and (4) in flow with host attractants. Algae were capable of actively and effectively locating their host in still water as well as in flow. When in water containing host attractants, swimming became slower, motion patterns straighter and the direction of motion was mainly towards the host - even if this meant advancing upstream against flow velocities of up to 0.5 mm s-1. Coral-algae encounter probability decreased the further downstream of the host algae were located, probably due to diffusion of the chemical signal. The results show how the chemoreceptive zooxanthellae modify their swimming pattern, direction, velocity, circuity and turning rate to accommodate efficient navigation in changing environmental conditions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)201-207
Number of pages7
JournalCoral Reefs
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 2006


  • Algal acquisition
  • Chemotaxis
  • Coral reef
  • Flow
  • Symbiosis


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