USGS - science for a changing world

St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center

St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center Home > DISCOVRE > Coral-Associated Microbes

DISCOVRE - Diversity, Systematics and Connectivity of Vulnerable Reef Ecosystems Project:

Microbial Ecology of Deep-Sea Coral Ecosystems

Coral-Associated Microbes

While there has been significant recent focus on the microbial associates of the deep-sea coral Lophelia pertusa, most other deep-sea scleractinians and octocorals remain unstudied. Microbial associates have been shown to be key players in coral biology, serving functions such as fixing nitrogen, capturing iron, cycling waste products, and producing antibiotics to keep unwanted microbes from infecting the coral. There is evidence that many corals maintain conserved bacterial communities, distinct from the water column, sediments, and nearby corals of other species. The coral's microbiome is also the most genetically adaptable part of the coral; faced with changing environmental conditions, the coral animal may take several generations to adapt, whereas the entire coral-associated microbial community (and all of its associated metabolic capabilities) can be changed on the order of hours to days. Changes in the microbial community can also be used as diagnostics of coral stress. Characterizing the microbial communities associated with deep-sea corals in these environments will increase our knowledge of the biodiversity in these ecosystems and provide insight into the variability or uniqueness of the corals between different canyons.

During research cruises in 2012 and 2013 to both Baltimore and Norfolk Canyons, we were able to collect multiple specimens of four deep-sea octocorals: Primnoa resedaeformis, Anthothela sp., Paramuricea sp., and Acanthogorgia sp. for microbiology. Bacterial associates will be identified from each coral by pyrosequencing. We will compare the bacterial communities on Primnoa from Baltimore and Norfolk Canyons with each other and also with a sister species, Primnoa pacifica, collected in the Gulf of Alaska, to determine how conserved the microbial communities are within and between species of the same genus. Similarly, we will compare the bacterial communities on Anthothela between canyons. Since the Paramuricea were only encountered in Baltimore Canyon and the Acanthogorgia in Norfolk, no biogeographic comparison is possible, but these analyses will provide a first look at the bacterial associates of those two cold-water gorgonians.

Shrimp perched on a colony of Primnoa resedaeformis   white, fluffy-looking octocoral has been identified as a species of Anthothela   Paramuricea colonies
Above Left: Shrimp perched on a colony of Primnoa resedaeformis, commonly known as 'sea corn' due to its orange-yellow color and the way its polyps are arranged in kernel-like rows. Image courtesy of Deepwater Canyons 2012 Expedition, NOAA-OER/BOEM. [larger version]

Above Center: This white, fluffy-looking octocoral has been identified as a species of Anthothela by Scott France. This octocoral was very common in Baltimore Canyon. Image courtesy of Deepwater Canyons 2012 Expedition, NOAA-OER/BOEM. [larger version]

Above Right: While the other octocorals tended to be found hanging from rock walls at many different depths, we only found one small area in Baltimore Canyon where a number of Paramuricea colonies were growing. These corals were striking for their variegated color pattern of purple and yellow. Image courtesy of Deepwater Canyons 2012 Expedition, NOAA-OER/BOEM. [larger version]

Accessibility FOIA Privacy Policies and Notices

Take Pride in America logo USA.gov logo U.S. Department of the Interior | U.S. Geological Survey
URL: http://coastal.er.usgs.gov/coral-microbes/discovre/coral-associated-microbes.html
Page Contact Information: Feedback
Page Last Modified: December 05, 2016 @ 11:24 AM (JSG)