Phylogenetic signal in the community structure of host-specific microbiomes of tropical marine sponges

Front Microbiol. 2014 Oct 17;5:532. doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2014.00532. eCollection 2014.


Sponges (Porifera) can host diverse and abundant communities of microbial symbionts that make crucial contributions to host metabolism. Although these communities are often host-specific and hypothesized to co-evolve with their hosts, correlations between host phylogeny and microbiome community structure are rarely tested. As part of the Earth Microbiome Project (EMP), we surveyed the microbiomes associated with 20 species of tropical marine sponges collected over a narrow geographic range. We tested whether (1) univariate metrics of microbiome diversity displayed significant phylogenetic signal across the host phylogeny; (2) host identity and host phylogeny were significant factors in multivariate analyses of taxonomic and phylogenetic dissimilarity; and (3) different minimum read thresholds impacted these results. We observed significant differences in univariate metrics of diversity among host species for all read thresholds, with strong phylogenetic signal in the inverse Simpson's index of diversity (D). We observed a surprisingly wide range of variability in community dissimilarity within host species (4-73%); this variability was not related to microbial abundance within a host species. Taxonomic and phylogenetic dissimilarity were significantly impacted by host identity and host phylogeny when these factors were considered individually; when tested together, the effect of host phylogeny was reduced, but remained significant. In our dataset, this outcome is largely due to closely related host sponges harboring distinct microbial taxa. Host identity maintained a strong statistical signal at all minimum read thresholds. Although the identity of specific microbial taxa varied substantially among host sponges, closely related hosts tended to harbor microbial communities with similar patterns of relative abundance. We hypothesize that microbiomes with low D might be structured by regulation of the microbial community by the host or by the presence of competitively dominant symbionts that are themselves under selection for host specificity.

Keywords: Porifera; coevolution; community ecology; diversity; microbial symbioses; phylogeny.