Energetic differences between bacterioplankton trophic groups and coral reef resistance

Proc Biol Sci. 2016 Apr 27;283(1829):20160467. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2016.0467.


Coral reefs are among the most productive and diverse marine ecosystems on the Earth. They are also particularly sensitive to changing energetic requirements by different trophic levels. Microbialization specifically refers to the increase in the energetic metabolic demands of microbes relative to macrobes and is significantly correlated with increasing human influence on coral reefs. In this study, metabolic theory of ecology is used to quantify the relative contributions of two broad bacterioplankton groups, autotrophs and heterotrophs, to energy flux on 27 Pacific coral reef ecosystems experiencing human impact to varying degrees. The effective activation energy required for photosynthesis is lower than the average energy of activation for the biochemical reactions of the Krebs cycle, and changes in the proportional abundance of these two groups can greatly affect rates of energy and materials cycling. We show that reef-water communities with a higher proportional abundance of microbial autotrophs expend more metabolic energy per gram of microbial biomass. Increased energy and materials flux through fast energy channels (i.e. water-column associated microbial autotrophs) may dampen the detrimental effects of increased heterotrophic loads (e.g. coral disease) on coral reef systems experiencing anthropogenic disturbance.

Keywords: coral reef; disease dissolved organic carbon algae and microbe; metabolic theory; microbialization; resistance.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anthozoa / metabolism*
  • Anthozoa / microbiology*
  • Bacteria / metabolism*
  • Biomass
  • Coral Reefs*
  • Ecosystem
  • Energy Metabolism
  • Humans
  • Phytoplankton / metabolism*
  • Water Microbiology