Coral reefs are crucial for the ecological sustainability of the oceans, yet, increasing sea surface temperature is threatening these ecosystems globally. Microbial communities associated with corals have become a recent research focus, as the associated microbiome may contribute to coral resilience to environmental stressors, e.g., heat stress. However, research in this area is hampered by the difficulty of working with corals. This study aims to use Aiptasia, a sea anemone, as a tractable laboratory model system to study the role of the coral microbiome. Analyses of the bacterial compositions associated with different Aiptasia strains across two temperatures (25 °C and 32 °C), based on 16S rRNA gene sequencing. This study aims also to identify a “core” microbiome associated with heat stress acclimation, as well as host-specific differences. In general, results showed that bacterial composition associated with Aiptasia strains differs significantly with temperature. Higher bacterial diversity and richness were observed when all Aiptasia strains were placed under heat stress. Moreover, results showed an increase in beta diversity and dispersion of bacterial communities in response to heat stress. These changes in the bacterial composition are in line with the recently described “Anna Karenina principle” for animal microbiomes, which suggests that the microbiomes of unhealthy individuals vary more than healthy and stable individuals. This study further shows that while temperature had the greatest effect on structuring the bacterial compositions, there were some variations better attributed to batch and host effects. This suggests that technical aspects have to be carefully addressed in the framework of microbiome studies. Members of a putative “core” microbiome associated with 32 °C Aiptasia have been identified as indicator species of heat stress (i.e., Francisella sp.,). Previous reports have shown that these indicator taxa are associated with saline environments and can tolerate high temperatures. Putative functional profiles based on taxonomic inference of associated bacterial taxa (i.e., enrichment and depletion of various metabolic processes) were also identified, implying functional differences of the microbiomes associated with Aiptasia strains in response to heat stress. Future studies should more specifically examine how the microbiome influences the animal ability to respond to environmental changes.
|Date made available
|KAUST Research Repository