Diversity and stability of coral endolithic microbial communities at a naturally high pCO2 reef

The health and functioning of reef-building corals is dependent on a balanced association with prokaryotic and eukaryotic microbes. The coral skeleton harbours numerous endolithic microbes, but their diversity, ecological roles and responses to environmental stress, including ocean acidification (OA), are not well characterized. This study tests whether pH affects the diversity and structure of prokaryotic and eukaryotic algal communities associated with skeletons of Porites spp. using targeted amplicon (16S rRNA gene, UPA and tufA) sequencing. We found that the composition of endolithic communities in the massive coral Porites spp. inhabiting a naturally high pCO2 reef (avg. pCO2 811 μatm) is not significantly different from corals inhabiting reference sites (avg. pCO2 357 μatm), suggesting that these microbiomes are less disturbed by OA than previously thought. Possible explanations may be that the endolithic microhabitat is highly homeostatic or that the endolithic micro-organisms are well adapted to a wide pH range. Some of the microbial taxa identified include nitrogen-fixing bacteria (Rhizobiales and cyanobacteria), algicidal bacteria in the phylum Bacteroidetes, symbiotic bacteria in the family Endozoicomoniaceae, and endolithic green algae, considered the major microbial agent of reef bioerosion. Additionally, we test whether host species has an effect on the endolithic community structure. We show that the endolithic community of massive Porites spp. is substantially different and more diverse than that found in skeletons of the branching species Seriatopora hystrix and Pocillopora damicornis. This study reveals highly diverse and structured microbial communities in Porites spp. skeletons that are possibly resilient to OA.

Marcelino V. R., Morrow K. M., van Oppen M. J. H., Bourne D. G. & Verbruggen H., 2017. Diversity and stability of coral endolithic microbial communities at a naturally high pCO2 reef. Molecular Ecology 26 (19): 5344-5357. Article (subscription required).

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