Aura-biomes are present in the water layer above coral reef benthic macro-organisms

Kevin Walsh, J. Matthew Haggerty, Michael P. Doane, John J. Hansen, Megan M. Morris, Ana Paula B. Moreira, Louisi de Oliveira, Luciana Leomil, Gizele D. Garcia, Fabiano Thompson, Elizabeth A. Dinsdale

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As coral reef habitats decline worldwide, some reefs are transitioning from coral- to algal-dominated benthos with the exact cause for this shift remaining elusive. Increases in the abundance of microbes in the water column has been correlated with an increase in coral disease and reduction in coral cover. Here we investigated how multiple reef organisms influence microbial communities in the surrounding water column. Our study consisted of a field assessment of microbial communities above replicate patches dominated by a single macro-organism. Metagenomes were constructed from 20 L of water above distinct macro-organisms, including (1) the coral Mussismilia braziliensis, (2) fleshy macroalgae (Stypopodium, Dictota and Canistrocarpus), (3) turf algae, and (4) the zoanthid Palythoa caribaeorum and were compared to the water microbes collected 3 m above the reef. Microbial genera and functional potential were annotated using MG-RAST and showed that the dominant benthic macro-organisms influence the taxa and functions of microbes in the water column surrounding them, developing a specific ''aura-biome''. The coral aura-biome reflected the open water column, and was associated with Synechococcus and functions suggesting oligotrophic growth, while the fleshy macroalgae aura-biome was associated with Ruegeria, Pseudomonas, and microbial functions suggesting low oxygen conditions. The turf algae aura-biome was associated with Vibrio, Flavobacterium, and functions suggesting pathogenic activity, while zoanthids were associated with Alteromonas and functions suggesting a stressful environment. Because each benthic organism has a distinct aura-biome, a change in benthic cover will change the microbial community of the water, which may lead to either the stimulation or suppression of the recruitment of benthic organisms.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere3666
Number of pages22
Publication statusPublished - 2017
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License [CC BY], which permits unrestricted use, distribution, reproduction and adaptation in any medium and for any purpose provided that it is properly attributed. For attribution, the original author(s), title, publication source (PeerJ) and either DOI or URL of the article must be cited.


  • Aura-biome
  • Coral reefs
  • Corals
  • Metagenomics
  • Microbial ecology


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