Dichotomy between regulation of coral bacterial communities and calcification physiology under ocean acidification conditions

Ocean acidification (OA) threatens the growth and function of coral reef ecosystems. A key component to coral health is the microbiome, but little is known about the impact of OA on coral microbiomes. A submarine CO2 vent at Maug Island in the Northern Marianas Islands provides a natural pH gradient to investigate coral responses to long-term OA conditions. Three coral species (Pocillopora eydouxiPorites lobata, and Porites rus) were sampled from three sites where mean seawater pH is 8.04, 7.98, and 7.94. We characterized coral bacterial communities (using 16S rRNA gene sequencing) and determined pH of the extracellular calcifying fluid (ECF) (using skeletal boron isotopes) across the seawater pH gradient. Bacterial communities of both Porites species stabilized (decreases in community dispersion) with decreased seawater pH, coupled with large increases in the abundance of Endozoicomonas, an endosymbiont. P. lobata experienced a significant decrease in ECF pH near the vent, whereas P. rus experienced a trending decrease in ECF pH near the vent. By contrast, Pocillopora exhibited bacterial community destabilization (increases in community dispersion), with significant decreases in Endozoicomonas abundance, while its ECF pH remained unchanged across the pH gradient. Our study shows that OA has multiple consequences on Endozoicomonas abundance and suggests that Endozoicomonas abundance may be an indicator of coral response to OA. We reveal an interesting dichotomy between two facets of coral physiology (regulation of bacterial communities and regulation of calcification), highlighting the importance of multidisciplinary approaches to understanding coral health and function in a changing ocean.

Shore A., Day R. D., Stewart J. A. & Burge C. A., in press. Dichotomy between regulation of coral bacterial communities and calcification physiology under ocean acidification conditions. Applied and Environmental MicrobiologyArticle.

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