Coral-associated bacterial assemblages: Current knowledge and the potential for climate-driven impacts

The importance of associations between microorganisms and their invertebrate hosts is becoming increasingly apparent. An emerging field, driven by the necessity to understand the microbial relationships that both maximize coral health and cause coral disease, is the study of coral–bacteria interactions. In this article, we review our current understanding of the diversity, specificity, development, and functions of coral-associated bacteria. We also summarize what is known regarding the role of coral microbiota in the health and disease of coral. We conduct a meta-analysis to determine whether the presence of unique taxa correlates with the state of coral health (i.e. healthy, diseased or bleached), as well as whether coral reef habitats harbor clusters of distinct taxa. We find that healthy and bleached corals harbor similar dominant taxa, although bleached corals had higher proportions of Vibrio and Acidobacteria. Diseased corals generally had more Rhodobacter, Clostridia, and Cyanobacteria sequences, and fewer Oceanospirillum sequences. We caution, however, that while 16S rRNA is useful for microbial species identification, it is a poor predictor of habitat or lifestyle, and care should be taken in interpretation of 16S rRNA surveys to identify potential pathogens amongst complex coral–microbial assemblages. Finally, we highlight evidence that coral–bacterial assemblages could be sensitive to the effects of climatic change. We suggest that the relationship between coral and their bacterial associates represents a valuable model that can be applied to the broader discipline of invertebrate–microbial interactions.

Mouchka, M. E., Hewson, I., & Harvell, C. D., 2010. Coral-associated bacterial assemblages: Current knowledge and the potential for climate-driven impacts. Integrative and Comparative Biology 50(4): 662-674. Article (subscription required).

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