Fungi and their role in corals and coral reef ecosystems
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Fungi in coral reefs exist as endoliths where they penetrate carbonate structures, endobionts where they are associated with living organisms such as corals, sponges and holothurians, as saprotrophs in the coral mucus, plant detritus, sediments and water column and as pathogens in hard and soft corals. Although algal and fungal endoliths in corals were described way back in 1973, their role in microboring, carbonate alteration, discoloration, density banding, symbiotic or parasitic association was postulated almost twenty five years later. Fungi as pathogens in corals has become a much discussed topic since the last ten years. It is either due to availability of better tools for investigations or greater awareness among the research communities. Fungi which are exclusive as endoliths (endemic) in corals or ubiquitous forms seem to play a role in coral reef system. Fungi associated with sponges and their role in production or induction of secondary metabolites in their host is of primary interest to various pharmaceutical industries and funding agencies. Fungal enzymes in degradation of coral mucus, plant detritus hold great promise in biotechnological applications. Unravelling fungal diversity in corals and associated reef organisms using culture and culture-independent approaches is a subject gaining attention from research communities world over.
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