Comparative Profiling of coral symbiont communities from the Caribbean, Indo-Pacific, and Arabian Seas

  • Chatchanit Arif

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Coral reef ecosystems are in rapid decline due to global and local anthropogenic factors. Being among the most diverse ecosystems on Earth, a loss will decrease species diversity, and remove food source for people along the coast. The coral together with its symbionts (i.e. Symbiodinium, bacteria, and other microorganisms) is called the ‘coral holobiont’. The coral host offers its associated symbionts suitable habitats and nutrients, while Symbiodinium and coral-associated bacteria provide the host with photosynthates and vital nutrients. Association of corals with certain types of Symbiodinium and bacteria confer coral stress tolerance, and lack or loss of these symbionts coincides with diseased or bleached corals. However, a detailed understanding of the coral holobiont diversity and structure in regard to diseases and health states or across global scales is missing. This dissertation addressed coral-associated symbiont diversity, specifically of Symbiodinium and bacteria, in various coral species from different geographic locations and different health states. The main aims were (1) to expand the scope of existing technologies, (2) to establish a standardized framework to facilitate comparison of symbiont assemblages over coral species and sites, (3) to assess Symbiodinium diversity in the Arabian Seas, and (4) to elucidate whether coral health states have conserved bacterial footprints. In summary, a next generation sequencing pipeline for Symbiodinium diversity typing of the ITS2 marker is developed and applied to describe Symbiodinium diversity in corals around the Arabian Peninsula. The data show that corals in the Arabian Seas are dominated by a single Symbiodinium type, but harbor a rich variety of types in low abundant. Further, association with different Symbiodinium types is structured according to geographic locations. In addition, the application of 16S rRNA gene microarrays to investigate how differences in microbiome structure relate to differences in health and disease demonstrate that coral species share common microbial footprints in phenotypically similar diseases that are conserved between regional seas. Moreover, corals harbor bacteria that are species-specific and distinct from the diseased microbial footprints. The existence of conserved coral disease microbiomes allows for cataloging diseases based on bacterial assemblage over coral species boundaries and will greatly facilitate future comparative analyses.
Date of AwardDec 2014
Original languageEnglish (US)
Awarding Institution
  • Biological, Environmental Sciences and Engineering
SupervisorChristian Voolstra (Supervisor)


  • Symbiodinium
  • Coral Disease
  • White Plague Disease (WPD)
  • Coral-associated Bacteria
  • Red Sea
  • Persian Gulf
  • Arabian Gulf

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