The Montastraea faveolata Microbiome: Ecological and Temporal Influences on a Caribbean Reef-Building Coral in Decline

Coral-associated microbial communities, including protists, bacteria, archaea and viruses, are important components of the coral holobiont that influence the health of corals and coral reef ecosystems. Evidence suggests that the composition of these microbial communities is affected by numerous parameters; however, little is known about the confluence of these ecological and temporal effects. In this study, we used ribosomal RNA gene sequencing to identify the zooxanthellae, bacteria and archaea associated with healthy and yellow band diseased (YBD) colonies in the Media Luna reef of La Parguera, Puerto Rico, in order to examine the influence of YBD on the Montastraea faveolata microbiome. In addition, we evaluated the influence of season on the differences between healthy and YBD M. faveolata microbiomes by sampling from the same tagged colonies in both March and September of 2007. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first coral microbiome study to examine sequences from the zooxanthellar, bacterial and archaeal communities simultaneously from individual coral samples.

Our results confirm differences in the M. faveolata zooxanthellar, bacterial and archaeal communities between healthy and YBD colonies in March; however, the September communities do not exhibit the same differences. Moreover, we provide evidence that the differences in the M. faveolata microbiomes between March and September are more significant than those observed between healthy and YBD. This data suggest that the entire coral microbiome, not just the bacterial community, is a dynamic environment where both disease and season play important roles.


Environmental microbiology. 2013-07-01; 15.7: 2082-94.
The Montastraea faveolata microbiome: ecological and temporal influences on a Caribbean reef-building coral in decline
Kimes NE, Johnson WR, Torralba M, Nelson KE, Weil E, Morris PJ
PMID: 23750924


Funding provided through the National Science Foundation Biodiversity Surveys and Inventories Grant.


Pamela Morris and Wesley Johnson
Hollins Marine Laboratory

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