The functional role of the bacterial organisms in the reef ecosystem and their contribution to the coral well-being remain largely unclear. The first step in addressing this gap of knowledge relies on in-depth characterization of the coral microbial community and its changes in diversity across coral species, space and time. In this study, we focused on the exploration of microbial community assemblages associated with an ecologically important Caribbean scleractinian coral, Porites astreoides, using Illumina high-throughput sequencing of the V5 fragment of 16S rRNA gene. We collected data from a large set of biological replicates, allowing us to detect patterns of geographical structure and resolve co-occurrence patterns using network analyses. The taxonomic analysis of the resolved diversity showed consistent and dominant presence of two OTUs affiliated with the order Oceanospirillales, which corroborates a specific pattern of bacterial association emerging for this coral species and for many other corals within the genus Porites. We argue that this specific association might indicate a symbiotic association with the adult coral partner. Furthermore, we identified a highly diverse rare bacterial 'biosphere' (725 OTUs) also living along with the dominant bacterial symbionts, but the assemblage of this biosphere is significantly structured along the geographical scale. We further discuss that some of these rare bacterial members show significant association with other members of the community reflecting the complexity of the networked consortia within the coral holobiont.
Keywords: Porites; coral; high-throughput sequencing; microbial ecology; microbiome; symbiosis.
© 2013 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.