skip to main content

Title: Microbiomes of a disease-resistant genotype of Acropora cervicornis are resistant to acute, but not chronic, nutrient enrichment

Chronically high levels of inorganic nutrients have been documented in Florida’s coral reefs and are linked to increased prevalence and severity of coral bleaching and disease. Naturally disease-resistant genotypes of the staghorn coralAcropora cervicornisare rare, and it is unknown whether prolonged exposure to acute or chronic high nutrient levels will reduce the disease tolerance of these genotypes. Recently, the relative abundance of the bacterial genusAquarickettsiawas identified as a significant indicator of disease susceptibility inA. cervicornis, and the abundance of this bacterial species was previously found to increase under chronic and acute nutrient enrichment. We therefore examined the impact of common constituents of nutrient pollution (phosphate, nitrate, and ammonium) on microbial community structure in a disease-resistant genotype with naturally low abundances ofAquarickettsia.We found that although this putative parasite responded positively to nutrient enrichment in a disease-resistant host, relative abundances remained low (< 0.5%). Further, while microbial diversity was not altered significantly after 3 weeks of nutrient enrichment, 6 weeks of enrichment was sufficient to shift microbiome diversity and composition. Coral growth rates were also reduced by 6 weeks of nitrate treatment compared to untreated conditions. Together these data suggest that the microbiomes of disease-resistantA. cervicornismay be initially resistant to shifts in microbial community structure, but succumb to compositional and diversity alterations after more sustained environmental pressure. As the maintenance of disease-resistant genotypes is critical for coral population management and restoration, a complete understanding of how these genotypes respond to environmental stressors is necessary to predict their longevity.

more » « less
Award ID(s):
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ; ;
Publisher / Repository:
Nature Publishing Group
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Scientific Reports
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract Nutrient pollution is linked to coral disease susceptibility and severity, but the mechanism behind this effect remains underexplored. A recently identified bacterial species, ‘Ca. Aquarickettsia rohweri,’ is hypothesized to parasitize the Caribbean staghorn coral, Acropora cervicornis, leading to reduced coral growth and increased disease susceptibility. Aquarickettsia rohweri is hypothesized to assimilate host metabolites and ATP and was previously demonstrated to be highly nutrient-responsive. As nutrient enrichment is a pervasive issue in the Caribbean, this study examined the effects of common nutrient pollutants (nitrate, ammonium, and phosphate) on a disease-susceptible genotype of A. cervicornis. Microbial diversity was found to decline over the course of the experiment in phosphate-, nitrate-, and combined-treated samples, and quantitative PCR indicated that Aquarickettsia abundance increased significantly across all treatments. Only treatments amended with phosphate, however, exhibited a significant shift in Aquarickettsia abundance relative to other taxa. Furthermore, corals exposed to phosphate had significantly lower linear extension than untreated or nitrate-treated corals after 3 weeks of nutrient exposure. Together these data suggest that while experimental tank conditions, with an elevated nutrient regime associated with coastal waters, increased total bacterial abundance, only the addition of phosphate significantly altered the ratios of Aquarickettsia compared to other members of the microbiome. 
    more » « less
  2. Effective coral restoration must include comprehensive investigations of the targeted coral community that consider all aspects of the coral holobiont—the coral host, symbiotic algae, and microbiome. For example, the richness and composition of microorganisms associated with corals may be indicative of the corals’ health status and thus help guide restoration activities. Potential differences in microbiomes of restoration corals due to differences in host genetics, environmental condition, or geographic location, may then influence outplant success. The objective of the present study was to characterize and compare the microbiomes of apparently healthy Acropora cervicornis genotypes that were originally collected from environmentally distinct regions of Florida’s Coral Reef and sampled after residing within Mote Marine Laboratory’s in situ nursery near Looe Key, FL (USA) for multiple years. By using 16S rRNA high-throughput sequencing, we described the microbial communities of 74 A. cervicornis genotypes originating from the Lower Florida Keys ( n  = 40 genotypes), the Middle Florida Keys ( n  = 15 genotypes), and the Upper Florida Keys ( n  = 19 genotypes). Our findings demonstrated that the bacterial communities of A. cervicornis originating from the Lower Keys were significantly different from the bacterial communities of those originating from the Upper and Middle Keys even after these corals were held within the same common garden nursery for an average of 3.4 years. However, the bacterial communities of corals originating in the Upper Keys were not significantly different from those in the Middle Keys. The majority of the genotypes, regardless of collection region, were dominated by Alphaproteobacteria, namely an obligate intracellular parasite of the genus Ca. Aquarickettsia . Genotypes from the Upper and Middle Keys also had high relative abundances of Spirochaeta bacteria. Several genotypes originating from both the Lower and Upper Keys had lower abundances of Aquarickettsia , resulting in significantly higher species richness and diversity. Low abundance of Aquarickettsia has been previously identified as a signature of disease resistance. While the low- Aquarickettsia corals from both the Upper and Lower Keys had high abundances of an unclassified Proteobacteria, the genotypes in the Upper Keys were also dominated by Spirochaeta . The results of this study suggest that the abundance of Aquarickettsia and Spirochaeta may play an important role in distinguishing bacterial communities among A. cervicornis populations and compositional differences of these bacterial communities may be driven by regional processes that are influenced by both the environmental history and genetic relatedness of the host. Additionally, the high microbial diversity of low- Aquarickettsia genotypes may provide resilience to their hosts, and these genotypes may be a potential resource for restoration practices and management. 
    more » « less
  3. Summary

    Holobiont phenotype results from a combination of host and symbiont genotypes as well as from prevailing environmental conditions that alter the relationships among symbiotic members. Corals exemplify this concept, where shifts in the algal symbiont community can lead to some corals becoming more or less thermally tolerant. Despite linkage between coral bleaching and disease, the roles of symbiotic bacteria in holobiont resistance and susceptibility to disease remains less well understood. This study thus characterizes the microbiome of disease‐resistant and ‐susceptibleAcropora cervicorniscoral genotypes (hereafter referred to simply as ‘genotypes’) before and after high temperature‐mediated bleaching. We found that the intracellular bacterial parasite ‘Ca.Aquarickettsia rohweri’ was strikingly abundant in disease‐susceptible genotypes. Disease‐resistant genotypes, however, had notably more diverse and even communities, with correspondingly low abundances of ‘Ca.Aquarickettsia’.Bleaching caused a dramatic reduction of ‘Ca.Aquarickettsia’ within disease‐susceptible corals and led to an increase in bacterial community dispersion, as well as the proliferation of opportunists. Our data support the hypothesis that ‘Ca.Aquarickettsia’ species increase coral disease risk through two mechanisms: (i) the creation of host nutritional deficiencies leading to a compromised host‐symbiont state and (ii) the opening of niche space for potential pathogens during thermal stress.

    more » « less
  4. Abstract

    The symbiont “Candidatus Aquarickettsia rohweri” infects a diversity of aquatic hosts. In the threatened Caribbean coral, Acropora cervicornis, Aquarickettsia proliferates in response to increased nutrient exposure, resulting in suppressed growth and increased disease susceptibility and mortality of coral. This study evaluated the extent, as well as the ecology and evolution of Aquarickettsia infecting threatened corals, Ac. cervicornis, and Ac. palmata and their hybrid (“Ac. prolifera”). Aquarickettsia was found in all acroporids, with coral host and geographic location impacting the infection magnitude. Phylogenomic and genome-wide single-nucleotide variant analysis of Aquarickettsia found phylogenetic clustering by geographic region, not by coral taxon. Analysis of Aquarickettsia fixation indices suggests multiple sequential infections of the same coral colony are unlikely. Furthermore, relative to other Rickettsiales species, Aquarickettsia is undergoing positive selection, with Florida populations experiencing greater positive selection relative to other Caribbean locations. This may be due in part to Aquarickettsia proliferating in response to greater nutrient stress in Florida, as indicated by greater in situ replication rates in these corals. Aquarickettsia was not found to significantly codiversify with either the coral animal or the coral’s algal symbiont (Symbiodinium “fitti”). Quantitative PCR analysis showed that gametes, larvae, recruits, and juveniles from susceptible, captive-reared coral genets were not infected with Aquarickettsia. Thus, horizontal transmission of Aquarickettsia via coral mucocytes or an unidentified host is more likely. The prevalence of Aquarickettsia in Ac. cervicornis and its high abundance in the Florida coral population suggests that coral disease mitigation efforts focus on preventing early infection via horizontal transmission.

    more » « less
  5. Ocean deoxygenation is intensifying globally due to human activities – and is emerging as a grave threat to coral reef ecosystems where it can cause coral bleaching and mass mortality. However, deoxygenation is one of many threats to coral reefs, making it essential to understand how prior environmental stress may influence responses to deoxygenation. To address this question, we examined responses of the coral holobiont (i.e., the coral host, Symbiodiniaceae, and the microbiome) to deoxygenation in corals with different environmental stress backgrounds. We outplantedAcropora cervicornisfragments of known genotypes from anin situnursery to two sites in the Florida Keys spanning an inshore-offshore gradient. After four months, fragments from the outplanted corals were transferred to the laboratory, where we tested differences in survivorship, tissue loss, photosynthetic efficiency, Symbiodiniaceae cell density, and coral microbiome composition after persistent exposure to one of four oxygen treatments ranging from extreme deoxygenation (0.5 mg L-1) to normoxia (6 mg L-1). We found that, for the short duration of exposure tested in this study (four days), the entire coral holobiont was resistant to dissolved oxygen (DO) concentrations as low as 2.0 mg L-1, but that the responses of members of the holobiont decoupled at 0.5 mg L-1. In this most extreme treatment, the coral host showed decreased photosynthetic efficiency, tissue loss, and mortality, and lower Symbiodiniaceae densities in a bleaching response, but most microbial taxa remained stable. Although deoxygenation did not cause major community shifts in microbiome composition, the population abundance of some microbial taxa did respond. Site history influenced some responses of the coral host and endosymbiont, but not the coral microbiome, with corals from the more stressful inshore site showing greater susceptibility to subsequent deoxygenation. Our study reveals that coral holobiont members respond differently to deoxygenation, with greater sensitivity in the coral host and Symbiodiniaceae and greater resistance in the coral microbiome, and that prior stress exposure can decrease host tolerance to deoxygenation.

    more » « less