Pre-Bleaching Coral Microbiome Is Enriched in Beneficial Taxa and Functions

Laís F.O. Lima, Amanda T. Alker, Megan M. Morris, Robert A. Edwards, Samantha J. de Putron, Elizabeth A. Dinsdale

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Coral reef health is tightly connected to the coral holobiont, which is the association between the coral animal and a diverse microbiome functioning as a unit. The coral holobiont depends on key services such as nitrogen and sulfur cycling mediated by the associated bacteria. However, these microbial services may be impaired in response to environmental changes, such as thermal stress. A perturbed microbiome may lead to coral bleaching and disease outbreaks, which have caused an unprecedented loss in coral cover worldwide, particularly correlated to a warming ocean. The response mechanisms of the coral holobiont under high temperatures are not completely understood, but the associated microbial community is a potential source of acquired heat-tolerance. Here we investigate the effects of increased temperature on the taxonomic and functional profiles of coral surface mucous layer (SML) microbiomes in relationship to coral–algal physiology. We used shotgun metagenomics in an experimental setting to understand the dynamics of microbial taxa and genes in the SML microbiome of the coral Pseudodiploria strigosa under heat treatment. The metagenomes of corals exposed to heat showed high similarity at the level of bacterial genera and functional genes related to nitrogen and sulfur metabolism and stress response. The coral SML microbiome responded to heat with an increase in the relative abundance of taxa with probiotic potential, and functional genes for nitrogen and sulfur acquisition. Coral–algal physiology significantly explained the variation in the microbiome at taxonomic and functional levels. These consistent and specific microbial taxa and gene functions that significantly increased in proportional abundance in corals exposed to heat are potentially beneficial to coral health and thermal resistance.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1005
Number of pages16
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 16 May 2024


  • coral reefs
  • holobiont
  • nutrient cycling
  • thermal tolerance


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