Nitrogen cycling in corals: the key to understanding holobiont functioning?

Trends Microbiol. 2015 Aug;23(8):490-7. doi: 10.1016/j.tim.2015.03.008. Epub 2015 Apr 10.


Corals are animals that form close mutualistic associations with endosymbiotic photosynthetic algae of the genus Symbiodinium. Together they provide the calcium carbonate framework of coral reef ecosystems. The importance of the microbiome (i.e., bacteria, archaea, fungi, and viruses) to holobiont functioning has only recently been recognized. Given that growth and density of Symbiodinium within the coral host is highly dependent on nitrogen availability, nitrogen-cycling microbes may be of fundamental importance to the stability of the coral-algae symbiosis and holobiont functioning, in particular under nutrient-enriched and -depleted scenarios. We summarize what is known about nitrogen cycling in corals and conclude that disturbance of microbial nitrogen cycling may be tightly linked to coral bleaching and disease.

Keywords: Symbiodinium; coral bleaching; coral disease; coral holobiont; nutrient limitation; symbiosis.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anthozoa / metabolism*
  • Anthozoa / microbiology*
  • Archaea / growth & development
  • Archaea / metabolism
  • Bacteria / growth & development
  • Bacteria / metabolism
  • Dinoflagellida / metabolism*
  • Dinoflagellida / physiology
  • Fungi / growth & development
  • Fungi / metabolism
  • Nitrogen / metabolism*
  • Nitrogen Cycle*
  • Symbiosis*


  • Nitrogen