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Reduced diversity and stability of coral-associated bacterial communities and suppressed immune function precedes disease onset in corals.

  • Author(s): Pollock, F Joseph
  • Lamb, Joleah B
  • van de Water, Jeroen AJM
  • Smith, Hillary A
  • Schaffelke, Britta
  • Willis, Bette L
  • Bourne, David G
  • et al.
Abstract

Disease is an emerging threat to coral reef ecosystems worldwide, highlighting the need to understand how environmental conditions interact with coral immune function and associated microbial communities to affect holobiont health. Increased coral disease incidence on reefs adjacent to permanently moored platforms on Australia's Great Barrier Reef provided a unique case study to investigate environment-host-microbe interactions in situ. Here, we evaluate coral-associated bacterial community (16S rRNA amplicon sequencing), immune function (protein-based prophenoloxidase-activating system), and water quality parameters before, during and after a disease event. Over the course of the study, 31% of tagged colonies adjacent to platforms developed signs of white syndrome (WS), while all control colonies on a platform-free reef remained visually healthy. Corals adjacent to platforms experienced significant reductions in coral immune function. Additionally, the corals at platform sites that remained visually healthy throughout the study had reduced bacterial diversity compared to healthy colonies at the platform-free site. Interestingly, prior to the observation of macroscopic disease, corals that would develop WS had reduced bacterial diversity and significantly greater community heterogeneity between colonies compared to healthy corals at the same location. These results suggest that activities associated with offshore marine infrastructure impacts coral immunocompetence and associated bacterial community, which affects the susceptibility of corals to disease.

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