Coral reefs are the proverbial rainforests of the ocean, but these spectacular structures are under threat from globally rising sea surface temperatures and ocean acidification. The Red Sea and the Persian/Arabian Gulf (PAG) display unusually high sea surface temperatures, and therefore, provide a model for studying environmental change. Corals are so-called holobionts consisting of the coral host, photosynthetic algae (Symbiodiniaceae), along with other microorganisms, such as bacteria, archaea, fungi, and viruses. While the importance of bacteria to coral holobiont functioning is acknowledged, little is known about changes in the microbial communities under natural environmental stressors in the Red Sea and the PAG. Accordingly, I investigated microbial community and mucus differences in bleached, healthy, and diseased corals. Analysis of the composition of mucus-associated microbial communities of bleached and healthy Porites lobata colonies from the Red Sea and the PAG were stable, although some regional differences were present. In a distinct study investigating coral disease, a broad range of corals in the Red Sea were shown to be infected with black band disease (BBD). Investigating the microbial community associated with BBD revealed the presence of the three main indicators for BBD (cyanobacteria, sulfate-reducing bacteria (SRB), and sulfide-oxidizing bacteria (SOB). Last, I investigated the chemical composition (carbohydrates) of the surface mucus layer of a range of Red Sea corals. Given that coral mucus represents a first line of defense, I was interested to examine whether mucus carbohydrate composition would point to a role of adaptation to the extreme environment of the Red Sea. This analysis showed that mucus consists of conserved sugars that are globally conserved. In summary, this thesis characterizes the microbial communities associated with a range of coral species in different health states (bleached, healthy, and diseased). The microbial community patterns I characterized support the notion that bacteria contribute to coral holobiont health and possibly adaptation to extreme environmental conditions in the Red Sea and PAG.
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