Persistent shifts in Caribbean coral microbiota are linked to the 2010 warm thermal anomaly

Environ Microbiol Rep. 2015 Jun;7(3):471-9. doi: 10.1111/1758-2229.12274. Epub 2015 Apr 6.


The response of corals to warm temperature anomalies includes changes in coral bacterial assemblages. There are clear differences between the microbiota of bleached and healthy corals. However, few studies have tracked the microbiota of individual colonies throughout a warming event. We used 454 pyrosequencing and repeated measures to characterize bacterial assemblages in 15 Gorgonia ventalina colonies before, during, 4 months after, and 1 year after the 2010 Caribbean warm thermal anomaly. In the latter three sampling times, the G. ventalina microbiota differed significantly from the microbiota of Orbicella faveolata colonies, which were sampled only at these three times. O. faveolata microbiota did not exhibit coordinated shifts through time. Notably, the microbiota of the repeatedly sampled G. ventalina colonies shifted persistently from before to during, after, and long after the warming event. The same pattern emerges from the norm of reaction for the individual G. ventalina colonies. This is the first study to show persistent shifts in coral microbiota in association with a warm thermal anomaly. Whether shifting microbiota is adaptive or maladaptive, the lasting change in bacterial assemblages following this warming event identifies a new way that coral microbiota shape the response of coral colonies under thermal stress.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anthozoa / microbiology*
  • Bacteria / classification
  • Bacteria / isolation & purification
  • Biota*
  • Caribbean Region
  • Meteorological Concepts*