St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center
Coral Microbial Ecology
Coral microbial ecology is the study of the relationship of coral-associated microorganisms to each other, the coral host, and to their environment. Just as we humans have beneficial bacteria living on our skin and in our intestines, corals also have co-habitating non-pathogenic (not disease-causing) microbes. These microbes include bacteria, archaea, and fungi—representing all three of the major domains of life.
What can we learn from studying coral microbial ecology? Why is it important? Coral reefs in the Caribbean have been in decline for several decades. One of the most visible causes is disease. Coral diseases are not well understood, but the few that have been characterized are all caused by microorganisms. In order to understand the diseased state, we must first understand the healthy state. Until now, coral biology studies have been limited to studies of the coral animal, the algal symbiont, or the interactions of the two. Coral microbial-ecology studies contribute a missing piece of information to the study of overall coral biology. It has been speculated that coral-associated bacteria benefit the coral by fixing nitrogen, breaking down waste products, and cycling basic nutrients back to the photosynthetic algal symbionts (zooxanthellae). Bacteria may also ward off other potentially harmful microbes by producing antibiotics or by just occupying the available space.
The Coral Microbial Ecology Group has an active research program identifying and characterizing the microbial associates of both tropical and cold-water (deep-sea) corals and their surrounding habitat. Current projects focus on coral disease dynamics, bacterial diversity, and using metagenomics to elucidate the functional roles of coral microbes.
Upcoming Cruises and Events
Dr. Christina Kellogg deployed a settling plate experiment on benthic landers at the head and mouth of both Norfolk and Baltimore Canyons during August and September, 2012. The landers (and the experiment) will be retrieved after spending a year on the bottom developing marine biofilms.
Galkiewicz, J.P., S.H. Stellick, M.A. Gray, and C.A. Kellogg (2012) Cultured fungal associates from the deep-sea coral Lophelia pertusa. Deep-Sea Research I 67: 12-20.
Gray, M.A., Z.A. Pratte, and C.A. Kellogg (2012) Comparison of DNA preservation methods for environmental bacterial-community samples. FEMS Microbiology Ecology. DOI: 10.1111/1574-6941.12008
Kellogg, C.A., Y.M. Piceno, L.M. Tom, T.Z. DeSantis, D.G. Zawada and G.L. Andersen (2012) PhyloChip™ microarray comparison of sampling methods used for coral microbial ecology. Journal of Microbiological Methods 88:103-109.
Galkiewicz, J.P., Z.A. Pratte, M.A. Gray, and C.A. Kellogg (2011) Characterization of culturable bacteria isolated from the cold-water coral Lophelia pertusa. FEMS Microbiology Ecology 77:333-346.
Gray, M.A., R.P. Stone, M.R. McLaughlin and C.A. Kellogg (2011) Microbial consortia of gorgonian corals from the Aleutian islands. FEMS Microbiology Ecology 76: 109-120.
Kellogg, C.A. (2010). Enumeration of viruses and prokaryotes in deep-sea sediments and cold seeps of the Gulf of Mexico. Deep-Sea Research II 57: 2002-2007.
Olson, J.B. and C.A. Kellogg (2010) Microbial ecology of corals, sponges, and algae in mesophotic coral environments. FEMS Microbiology Ecology 73: 17-30.
Kellogg, C.A., J.T. Lisle and J.P. Galkiewicz (2009) Culture-independent characterization of bacterial communities associated with the cold-water coral Lophelia pertusa in the northeastern Gulf of Mexico. Applied and Environmental Microbiology 75 (8): 2294-2303.
Diving into Coral Disease