The skeleton of reef-building coral harbors diverse microbial communities that could compensate for metabolic deficiencies caused by the loss of algal endosymbionts, i.e., coral bleaching. However, it is unknown to what extent endolith taxonomic diversity and functional potential might contribute to thermal resilience. Here we exposed Goniastrea edwardsi and Porites lutea, two common reef-building corals from the central Red Sea to a 17-day long heat stress. Using hyperspectral imaging, marker gene/metagenomic sequencing, and NanoSIMS, we characterized their endolithic microbiomes together with 15N and 13C assimilation of two skeletal compartments: the endolithic band directly below the coral tissue and the deep skeleton. The bleaching-resistant G. edwardsi was associated with endolithic microbiomes of greater functional diversity and redundancy that exhibited lower N and C assimilation than endoliths in the bleaching-sensitive P. lutea. We propose that the lower endolithic primary productivity in G. edwardsi can be attributed to the dominance of chemolithotrophs. Lower primary production within the skeleton may prevent unbalanced nutrient fluxes to coral tissues under heat stress, thereby preserving nutrient-limiting conditions characteristic of a stable coral-algal symbiosis. Our findings link coral endolithic microbiome structure and function to bleaching susceptibility, providing new avenues for understanding and eventually mitigating reef loss.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics