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  1. Abstract

    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.

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  2. 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. 
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