Distinct Bacterial Communities Associated with Massive and Branching Scleractinian Corals and Potential Linkages to Coral Susceptibility to Thermal or Cold Stress
The coral holobiont is a dynamic assemblage of the coral animal, zooxanthellae, endolithic algae and fungi, Bacteria,Archaea and viruses. Zooxanthellae and some Bacteria form relatively stable and species-specific associations with corals. Other associations are less specific; coral-associated Archaea differ from those in the water column, but the same archaeal species may be found on different coral species. It has been hypothesized that the coral animal can adapt to differing ecological niches by 'switching' its microbial associates. In the case of corals and zooxanthellae, this has been termed adaptive bleaching and it has important implications for carbon cycling within the coral holobiont and ultimately the survival of coral reefs. However, the roles of other components of the coral holobiont are essentially unknown. To better understand these other coral associates, a fractionation procedure was used to separate the microbes, mitochondria and viruses from the coral animal cells and zooxanthellae. The resulting metagenomic DNA was sequenced using pyrosequencing. Fungi, Bacteria and phage were the most commonly identified organisms in the metagenome. Three of the four fungal phyla were represented, including a wide diversity of fungal genes involved in carbon and nitrogen metabolism, suggesting that the endolithic community is more important than previously appreciated. In particular, the data suggested that endolithic fungi could be converting nitrate and nitrite to ammonia, which would enable fixed nitrogen to cycle within the coral holobiont. The most prominent bacterial groups were Proteobacteria (68%), Firmicutes (10%), Cyanobacteria (7%) and Actinobacteria (6%). Functionally, the bacterial community was primarily heterotrophic and included a number of pathways for the degradation of aromatic compounds, the most abundant being the homogentisate pathway. The most abundant phage family was the ssDNA Microphage and most of the eukaryotic viruses were most closely related to those known to infect aquatic organisms. This study provides a metabolic and taxonomic snapshot of microbes associated with the reef-building coral Porites astreoides and presents a basis for understanding how coral-microbial interactions structure the holobiont and coral reefs.