Octocorals are one of the most ubiquitous benthic organisms in marine ecosystems from the shallow tropics to the Antarctic deep sea, providing habitat for numerous organisms as well as ecosystem services for humans. In contrast to the holobionts of reef-building scleractinian corals, the holobionts of octocorals have received relatively little attention, despite the devastating effects of disease outbreaks on many populations. Recent advances have shown that octocorals possess remarkably stable bacterial communities on geographical and temporal scales as well as under environmental stress. This may be the result of their high capacity to regulate their microbiome through the production of antimicrobial and quorum-sensing interfering compounds. Despite decades of research relating to octocoral-microbe interactions, a synthesis of this expanding field has not been conducted to date. We therefore provide an urgently needed review on our current knowledge about octocoral holobionts. Specifically, we briefly introduce the ecological role of octocorals and the concept of holobiont before providing detailed overviews of (I) the symbiosis between octocorals and the algal symbiont Symbiodinium; (II) the main fungal, viral, and bacterial taxa associated with octocorals; (III) the dominance of the microbial assemblages by a few microbial species, the stability of these associations, and their evolutionary history with the host organism; (IV) octocoral diseases; (V) how octocorals use their immune system to fight pathogens; (VI) microbiome regulation by the octocoral and its associated microbes; and (VII) the discovery of natural products with microbiome regulatory activities. Finally, we present our perspectives on how the field of octocoral research should move forward, and the recognition that these organisms may be suitable model organisms to study coral-microbe symbioses.
Keywords: Bacteria; Fungi; Gorgonians; Holobiont; Immunity; Microbiome; Octocoral; Soft coral; Symbiodinium.