Patterns of environmental variability influence coral-associated bacterial and algal communities on the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef

Lauren Speare*, Sarah W Davies, John P Balmonte, Justin Baumann, Karl D Castillo

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


A coral's capacity to alter its microbial symbionts may enhance its fitness in the face of climate change. Recent work predicts exposure to high environmental variability may increase coral resilience and adaptability to future climate conditions. However, how this heightened environmental variability impacts coral-associated microbial communities remains largely unexplored. Here, we examined the bacterial and algal symbionts associated with two coral species of the genus Siderastrea with distinct life history strategies from three reef sites on the Belize Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System with low or high environmental variability. Our results reveal bacterial community structure, as well as alpha- and beta-diversity patterns, vary by host species. Differences in bacterial communities between host species were partially explained by high abundance of Deltaproteobacteria and Rhodospirillales and high bacterial diversity in Siderastrea radians. Our findings also suggest Siderastrea spp. have dynamic core bacterial communities that likely drive differences observed in the entire bacterial community, which may play a critical role in rapid acclimatization to environmental change. Unlike the bacterial community, Symbiodiniaceae composition was only distinct between host species at high thermal variability sites, suggesting that different factors shape bacterial versus algal communities within the coral holobiont. Our findings shed light on how domain-specific shifts in dynamic microbiomes may allow for unique methods of enhanced host fitness.

Original languageEnglish
JournalMolecular Ecology
Issue number13
Pages (from-to)2334-2348
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2020
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

© 2020 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


  • Animals
  • Anthozoa/microbiology
  • Bacteria/classification
  • Belize
  • Coral Reefs
  • Dinoflagellida/classification
  • Microbiota


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