Mary Alice Coffroth

Evolutionary Biology and Ecology; Population Biology of Marine Invertebrates

Associate Professor

Ph.D. 1988 University of Miami
Postdoctoral work 1989, 1990 University at Buffalo;
Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
Research Assistant Professor, University at Buffalo 1991
Assistant Professor, University at Buffalo 1997
Associate Professor, University at Buffalo 2001


Address Information

Mary Alice Coffroth
Department of Biological Sciences
661 Hochstetter Hall
State University of New York at Buffalo
Buffalo, NY 14260

(716) 645-2363 ext: 187

To send e-mail:

Current information about Dr. Coffroth's courses:

Ecological Methods (Bio310)

Tropical Marine Ecology (Bio411/Bio511)

Field Course in Tropical Marine Ecology (Bio412/Bio512)

Molecular Ecology (Bio458/Bio558)

For our Lab Web Page, please click here


I am currently using the population structure of clonal species as a tool in studying their life history strategies. Studies of a species population structure and genetic diversity provide insight into their current and past population dynamics.

Selected Projects

Dynamics and ontogeny of cnidarian-algal symbioses
Many benthic marine invertebrates harbor symbiotic algae, zooxanthellae . I am investigating the population dynamics and early ontogeny of cnidarian-algal symbioses using the gorgonian, Plexaura kuna and its zooxanthellae as a model system. I am using the population structure of zooxanthellae within an individual host and among the host population and details of the early stages of this symbiosis, to identify levels of specificity among host and zooxanthellae . We have shown that a single gorgonian colony harbors a dominant zooxanthella genotype(s) and that this genotype(s) differs among host colonies. The dominant zooxanthella complements within hosts do not vary over time and in different environments, establishing that this is a stable system. Studies of the ontogeny of the symbiosis show that hosts can be infected by multiple algal genotypes during early development and a sorting out occurs to establish the final dominant complement seen in the adult host. We are now examining the mechanisms by which this sorting occurs to establish the population of zooxanthellae found in adult host colonies. We are also examining the zooxanthellae population structure outside of the host. These latter data will provide information about the availability of zooxanthellae for infection and the dispersal capabilities of zooxanthellae (of which nothing is now known).

Reef connectivity: A study of supply and source of coral recruits to Caribbean Reef
In a second project, using molecular techniques, we are examining the level of local dispersal and source of coral recruits to reefs throughout the Caribbean. We are comparing the population genetic structure of adults, juvenile and new recruits of three scleractinian corals, Porites astreoides, Montastrea cavenosa and Favia fragum to infer present (or recent) gene flow patterns. We are using a combination of molecular markers (microsatellites, sequence analysis of ITS and inter-simple sequence repeats [ISSR]) to delineate genetic population structure and gene flow within these Caribbean species in order to assess reef interdependence or connectivity. We are also using ISSR to identify species-specific markers for these and other species.

Population ecology of a harvestable marine resource
I am also using the population structure of the gorgonian Pseudopterogorgia elisabethae to elucidate the degree of larval dispersal and gene flow within and between populations (a collaboration with H. Lasker). This species is currently being harvested in the Bahamas for a compound that is used by the cosmetic industry. We are investigating the population biology of this species using DNA fingerprinting and microsatellite loci to provide baseline data for the generation of a management plan.


  • Lewis, C and M.A. Coffroth
    The acquisition of exogenous algal symbionts by an octocoral after bleaching.
    Science 304:1490-1492(2004)
    Abstract or Full Text Version
  • Santos S.R., Taylor, D.J., Kinzie III, R.A. Hidaka, M., Sakai K., Coffroth,M.A.
    Molecular phylogeny of symbiotic dinoflagellates inferred from chloroplast large subunit (23S)-rDNA sequences
    Mole. Phylogen and Evol.
    (In Press)
  • Santos S.R., Taylor, D.J., Kinzie III, R.A., Sakai K., Coffroth, M.A.
    Molecular evolution of length variation and heteroplasmy in the chloroplast rDNA of symbiotic dinoflagellates.
    Phyocologia (In Press)
  • Coffroth, M.A., T.L. Goulet and Santos, S.R.
    Early ontogenic expression of specificity in a cnidarian-algal symbiosis.
    Mar. Ecol. Prog.Ser.
    222: 85-96 (2001)
  • Santos, S.R., Taylor, D.J. and Coffroth, M.A.
    Genetic comparisons of freshly isolated vs. cultured zooxanthellae: Implications for extrapolating to the intact symbiosis.
    J. Phycol.
    37: 900-912 (2001)
  • Kinzie, R.A., Takayama, M., Santos, S.R., and Coffroth, M.A.
    The adaptive bleaching hypothesis: Experimental tests of critical assumptions.

    Biol. Bull.
    200: 51-58 (2001)
  • Lasker, H.R. and Coffroth, M.A.
    Responses of clonal reef taxa to environmental change.

    American Zoologist
    39:92-103. (1999)
  • Coffroth, M.A. and Lasker, H.R.
    Larval paternity and male reproductive success of a broadcast spawning gorgonian.

    Marine Biology
    131:329-337 (1998)
  • Coffroth, M.A. and Lasker, H.R.
    Population structure of a clonal gorgonian coral: the interplay between clonal reproduction and disturbance.
    Evolution 52: 379-383 (1998)
  • Lasker, H.R., Kim, K. and Coffroth, M.A.
    Production, settlement and survival of plexaurid gorgonian recruits.
    Mar. Ecol. Prog. Ser.
    162:111-123. (1998)
  • Coffroth, M.A.
    Molecular approaches to the study of clonal organism: deciphering the alphabet soup. In: Lessios,
    HA and I.G. Macintrye (eds).
    Proc 8th Int. Coral Reef Symp
    . 2:1603-1608. Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Balboa, Panama. (1997)
  • Goulet, T.L. and Coffroth, M.A.
    A within colony comparison of zooxanthella genotypes in the Caribbean gorgonian Plexaura kuna In: Lessios
    , HA and I.G. Macintrye (eds).
    Proc 8th Int. Coral Reef Symp.
    2:1331-1334. Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Balboa, Panama. (1997)
  • Coffroth, M.A.
    Molecular approaches to the study of clonal organisms: deciphering the alphabet soup.

    8th International Coral Reef Symposium (Eds. H.A. Lessios and I.G. MacIntyre), Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Panama (1997)
  • Lasker, H.R., Brazeau, D.A., Calderon, J., Coffroth, M.A., and Kim, K.
    In situ rates of fertilization among broadcast spawning gorgonian corals
    Biol. Bull
    . 190:45-55. (1996)
  • Lasker, H.R., Kim, K. and Coffroth, M.A.
    Reproductive and genetic variation among Caribbean gorgonians: the differentiation of Plexaura kuna, new species.

    Bull. Mar. Sci
    . 58:277-288 (1996)
  • Coffroth, M.A. and Mulawka, J.M.
    Identification of marine invertebrate larvae using PCR-RAPD species specific markers
    Limnol. Oceanogr. 40:181-189 (1995)
  • Lasker, H.R., Kim, K. and Coffroth, M.A.
    Reproductive and genetic variation among Caribbean gorgonians: the differentiation of Plexaura kuna sp. nov.
    Bull. Mar. Sci. 58:277-288 (1996)
  • Zeh, D.W., May, C.A., Coffroth, M.A., Bermingham, E.
    Mbo I and Macrohaltica quality of DNA fingerprints is strongly enzyme dependent in an insect (Coleoptera).
    Molecular Ecology 2: 61-63 (1993)
  • Coffroth, M.A., Lasker, H.R., Diamond, M.E., Bruenn, J.A., Bermingham, E.
    DNA fingerprints of a gorgonian coral: A method for detecting clonal structure in a vegetative species.
    Marine Biology 114:317-325 (1992)

    "Zooxanthella small subunit ribosomal DNA from zooxanthellae freshly isolated from a variety of scleractinian species, amplified with zooxanthella-biased primers and digested with Taq I.Lane labeling indicates the host from which the zooxanthellae were isolated. Standards are labeled as A, Clade A standard; B, Clade B standard; L, 100 bp ladder; C, Clade C standard; D, Clade D standard. Arrows indicate banding pattern of the putative apicomplexan amplified with the zooxanthella-biased primers"

    Symbiotic dinoflagellates, Symbiodinium sp., isolated from the gorgonian coral, Plexaura kuna. Cell diameter approximately 15 microns.


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