Coral Reefs

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Algae dictate multiple stressor effects on coral microbiomes

  • A. L. BrownEmail author
  • Erin K. Lipp
  • Craig W. Osenberg


Most studies of stressors focus on the response of traditionally classified organisms via effects on growth, mortality or physiology; however, most species have microbial associates that may mediate the response of a host to the stressor. Additionally, species rarely experience one stressor alone, but instead are influenced by multiple, potentially interacting stressors. We evaluated how coral microbiomes responded to two biotic stressors: the vermetid gastropod, Ceraesignum maximum, and algal turfs, both of which have previously been shown to decrease coral growth, survival and photophysiology. We collected coral mucus from massive Porites colonies in the presence versus absence of both algae and vermetids and sequenced the 16S rRNA gene to characterize the coral surface microbial communities. The presence of algae increased the alpha diversity of the coral microbial community, likely by increasing the relative abundance of rare members of the community. Algae also reduced beta diversity, which we hypothesized was due to algae homogenizing the physical environment. In contrast, vermetids had only small effects on microbial communities, even though vermetids have deleterious effects on coral growth. We previously hypothesized that vermetids would exacerbate algal effects on microbes, but we failed to detect an interaction between vermetids and algae on the coral’s microbiome, except for one family, Fusobacteriaceae, which was most abundant in the presence of both stressors. We suggest that algae can affect corals through their effects on microbes, whereas vermetids primarily affect the host directly; these complementary effects may limit the extent to which stressors can interact.


Vermetid Algal turf Microbiome Coral–algal interactions Stressors 



Thanks to M. Teplitski for assistance with sampling protocol, N. Hackney for field assistance, K. Kemp for advice and guidance with DNA protocols, T. Glenn, T. Kieran, J.Thomas for assistance with DNA extraction, and the staff at the Gump Station for assistance with logistics. We also thank the MBL STAMPS 2015 workshop for sharing insights about microbial analyses, and the NSF (OCE-1130359) and the University of Georgia for funding.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

338_2019_1769_MOESM1_ESM.docx (5.2 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 5303 kb)


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© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Odum School of EcologyUniversity of GeorgiaAthensUSA
  2. 2.School of Natural Resources and the EnvironmentUniversity of FloridaGainesvilleUSA
  3. 3.Environmental Health SciencesUniversity of GeorgiaAthensUSA

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