Parental and early life stage environments drive establishment of bacterial and dinoflagellate communities in a common coral


The establishment of coral microbial communities in early developmental stages is fundamental to coral fitness, but its drivers are largely unknown, particularly for bacteria. Using an in situ reciprocal transplant experiment, we examined the influence of parental, planulation and early recruit environments on the microbiome of brooded offspring in the coral Pocillopora damicornis. 16S rRNA and ITS2 rDNA gene metabarcoding showed that bacterial and microalgal endosymbiont communities varied according to parental and planulation environments, but not with early recruit environment. Only a small number of bacterial strains were shared between offspring and their respective parents, revealing bacterial establishment as largely environmentally driven in very early life stages. Conversely, microalgal communities of recruits were highly similar to those of their respective parents, but also contained additional low abundance strains, suggesting both vertical transmission and novel (‘horizontal’) acquisition. Altogether, recruits harboured more variable microbiomes compared to their parents, indicating winnowing occurs as corals mature.

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The authors would like to thank M. Kebben (AIMS) for assistance with the design of the planulation boxes. Funding was provided by Paul G. Allen Philanthropies, AIMS@JCU, The Explorer’s Club and the ARC CoE for Coral Reef Studies, as part of HE’s PhD research. HE acknowledges receipt of an AIMS@JCU Postgraduate Scholarship. Sequence data is available on the NCBI Sequence Read Archive under the accession PRJNA492366.

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Correspondence to Hannah E. Epstein.

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Epstein, H.E., Torda, G., Munday, P.L. et al. Parental and early life stage environments drive establishment of bacterial and dinoflagellate communities in a common coral. ISME J 13, 1635–1638 (2019).

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