Threatened tropical coral reefs form complex, ancient associations with bacteria, researchers say

In a comprehensive study of healthy corals published Nov. 22 in the journal Nature Communications, a team of scientists from the University of Washington Bothell, Pennsylvania State University and Oregon State University report that coral bacteria are a surprisingly diverse bunch — and that different sections of the coral body can host unique communities of bacteria.

But over the last two decades, scientists have realized that other microbes are also critical for coral health, including communities of bacteria that live on coral surfaces and in their tissues. These bacteria constitute the coral microbiome. High temperatures — even below the threshold for bleaching — can disrupt coral microbiomes, leaving corals vulnerable to disease.

But scientists lack comprehensive data about the bacteria that make up the microbiomes of the more than 1,500 coral species worldwide. That is starting to change thanks to the Global Coral Microbiome Project, a collaboration among researchers at the University of Washington Bothell, Pennsylvania State University and Oregon State University. The team is studying the diversity of bacteria within corals and how it has changed over time.

In their first comprehensive survey of healthy corals, published Nov. 22 in the journal Nature Communications, the team reports that coral bacteria are a surprisingly diverse bunch

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