Bacterial communities associated with corals out-planted on the Great Barrier Reef are inherently dynamic over space and time

Paige Strudwick, Justin Seymour, Emma F. Camp, Christine Roper, John Edmondson, Lorna Howlett, David J. Suggett

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    4 Scopus citations


    Coral propagation and out-planting are becoming commonly adopted as part of reef stewardship strategies aimed at improving reef resilience through enhanced natural recovery and rehabilitation. The coral microbiome has a crucial role in the success of the coral holobiont and can be impacted shortly after out-planting. However, long-term characterisation of the out-plant microbiome in relation to out-plant survival, and how these properties vary across reef sites, is unexplored. Therefore, at three reef sites on Opal Reef, Great Barrier Reef (Mojo, Sandbox and Rayban, 16°12′18″S 145°53′54″E), we examined bacterial communities associated with out-planted Acropora millepora coral and monitored coral survival over 12 months (February 2021–22). Bacterial communities of out-planted corals exhibited significant changes from donor colonies 7 days to 1.5 months after out-planting. Further, bacterial community composition differed for sites Sandbox and Rayban with low overall survival (0–43%) versus Mojo with higher overall survival (47–75%). After initial dissimilarity in bacterial communities of out-plants across sites at 1.5 months, and despite changes within sites over time, out-plants exhibited similar microbial communities across sites at 7 days and 6, 9 and 12 months. We hypothesise these trends reflect how bacterial communities are shaped by rapid changes in local environmental characteristics (e.g. from source to out-planting site), where out-plant bacterial communities ‘conform’ to out-planting site conditions. After initial changes, out-plant bacterial communities may then be under the influence of global environmental conditions—such as annual trends in temperature across seasons. Such outcomes indicate the importance of site selection in shaping initial coral bacterial communities and subsequent out-plant success. Importantly, continued differences in out-plant survival trajectory but similar bacterial communities across sites after 1.5 months indicate that other factors—apart from bacterial community changes—likely govern out-plant success in the longer term. Our research highlights the need to resolve drivers of small-scale site differences alongside higher resolution spatiotemporal monitoring of environmental conditions to distinguish key drivers of (i) microbial change during out-planting and (ii) out-plant survival to subsequently inform out-plant site selection to optimise future restoration efforts.
    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Issue number7
    StatePublished - May 23 2023

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Ecology
    • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
    • Aquatic Science


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