Coral reefs

Event Date: 
Wednesday, July 29, 2015 - 18:15 - 18:30
Institution: 
Australian Institute of Marine Sciences
Title: 

Coral Reefs Go Viral: Unveiling the viruses associated with corals in a changing climate.

Abstract: 

Viruses are the most common biological agents in the global oceans, with numbers typically averaging ten billion per litre. The ability of viruses to infect all organisms indicates they most likely play a central role in marine ecosystems and have important consequences for the entire marine food web. Marine viruses influence many biogeochemical and ecological processes, including energy and nutrient cycling, host distribution and abundance, and horizontal gene transfer events. Research into viruses associated with coral reefs is a newly emerging field. Corals form an obligate symbiotic relationship with the dinoflagellate genus Symbiodinium, upon which the coral relies heavily for nutrition and calcification. Disruption of this symbiosis can lead to loss of the symbiotic algae from their host, resulting in coral bleaching and, if the symbiosis cannot re-establish, death of the coral colony. While a number of factors, including elevated reactive oxygen species production by Symbiodinium have been linked to coral bleaching, viral infection has not been methodically examined as a possible cause. Viruses that potentially target the algal symbiont, Symbiodinium sp., have been reported previously; therefore, we examined whether Symbiodinium in culture is host to a virus that switches to a lytic infection under stress, such as UV exposure or elevated temperature. Analysis of algal cultures, using techniques including flow cytometry and transmission electron microscopy, revealed prevalent viral activity, regardless of experimental conditions. This talk will present recent results and results allow for the development of molecular diagnostic probes for rapid detection of viruses in field samples, and will help monitor and assess the role of viruses in coral bleaching and holobiont functioning.

Event Date: 
Wednesday, July 30, 2014 - 18:00 - 18:15
Institution: 
UTS
Title: 

Exploring coral-bacteria interactions: where are they, how do they get there and what do they do?

Abstract: 

Microorganisms live in tight ecological associations with corals, but microbial community composition, functions and behaviours within coral reef ecosystems are not yet fully understood. To examine the community structure, metabolic capacity and the potential role of chemotaxis in the ecology of coral reef bacterial communities, we performed a suite of laboratory, in-situ and thermal stress experiments on Heron Island, the Great Barrier Reef (GBR). To characterise patterns in microbial composition and metabolic capacity across different niches on a coral reef, metagenomes were sequenced from seawater samples associated with the surfaces of corals, the sandy substrate and in open water, outside of the reef. Within these environments we also examined the potential ecological role of chemotaxis among coral associated bacteria, by using laboratory and in situ chemotaxis assays to test for levels of chemotaxis towards several chemoattractants known to be released by corals and their symbiotic dinoflagelletes including amino acids, carbohydrates, ammonium chloride, and dimethylsulfonopropionate (DMSP). Finally, to determine how environmental variability, specifically thermal stress, influences bacterial community composition, behaviour and metabolic capacity, manipulation experiments were conducted using Pocillopora damicornis in flow-through aquatic systems on Heron Island.
 We found that the composition and metabolic potential of coral reef bacteria is highly heterogeneous across a coral reef ecosystem, with a shift from an oligotroph-dominated community (e.g. SAR11, Prochlorococcus, Synechococcus) in the open water and sandy substrate niches, to a community characterised by an increased frequency of copiotrophic bacteria (e.g. Vibrio, Pseudoalteromonas, Alteromonas) in the coral seawater niches. Among the major functional patterns observed were significant increases in genes associated with bacterial motility and chemotaxis in samples associated with the surfaces of coral colonies. These patterns were directly confirmed by chemotaxis experiments, which demonstrated that bacteria associated with the surfaces of the corals exhibited high levels of chemotaxis, particularly towards DMSP and several amino acids. Levels of chemotaxis by coral-associated bacteria were consistently higher than those demonstrated by non-coral associated bacteria. The phylogenetic composition of the chemotactic microbes, determined using 16S rRNA amplicon pyrosequencing, differed to the background community in the surrounding seawater, and incorporated several known coral-associated bacteria, Rhodobacteraceae, Flavobacteriaceae, Pseudomonadaceae and included potentially pathogenic Vibrios. Notably many of these bacteria, specifically Rhodobacterales, Flavobacterales and Vibrionales also became the dominant coral associated organisms under conditions of thermal stress experiments, indicating that these copiotrophic and chemotactic bacteria become key colonisers of thermally stressed corals.
Taken together our data demonstrate that coral reef bacterial communities are highly dynamic and that key groups of copiotrophic bacteria have the capacity to use sensitive chemotaxis to exploit nutrient gradients and potentially locate their coral hosts. Under conditions of heat stress, these behaviours may allow pathogenic organisms to locate and infect compromised hosts. 

Event Date: 
Wednesday, February 26, 2014 - 18:30 - 19:00
Institution: 
Australian Institute of Marine Science
Title: 

A microbial perspective of coral from the Great Barrier Reef

Abstract: 

Coral reefs are fundamental in providing ecological, social and economical benefits to local communities, governments and nations. In Australia, the Great Barrier Reef is an iconic symbol in our national psyche, representing approximately 17% of the global tropical coral reef area with an estimated economic value at greater than AUD$5 billion per year. Coral reefs are constructed through the close association between reef building corals and their symbiotic dinoflagellate microalgae (Symbiodinium). However just as in other animal systems, corals are now thought of as a holobiont, forming additional close and intricate associations with a range of other microbial organisms such as bacteria, archaeae, fungi and viruses. Over the last decade a greater understanding has been obtained in how corals shape and structure their microbial partners, providing important functional roles in maintaining overall coral fitness. The cycling of nitrogen and sulfur compounds within the holobiont are increasingly being recognised as driving many of these coral microbial associations and have important consequences for coral health and the subsequent resilience of coral reefs. For example, nitrogen fixing bacteria (diazotrophs) within the Rhizobia group, which accomplish nitrogen fixation after establishing symbiosis in the roots of host plants, also appear common and specific to corals. These associations are established at the earliest larval life stages and maintained as the coral grows in mature colonies. Using fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) and nanoscale secondary ion mass spectrometry (NanoSIMS) the uptake of diazotrophic bacteria and passage of nitrogen into coral larvae can be observed, providing evidence that diazotrophs can provide an additional nitrogen source to the animal. Reef-building corals are the most prolific producers of dimethylsulphoniopropionate (DMSP), a molecule central in the marine sulphur cycle and precursor of the climate-active gas dimethylsulphide (DMS). Recent work has shown that the coral animal itself can produce DMSP, hence overturning the paradigm that photosynthetic organisms are the sole biological source of this compound. DMSP represents a rich nutrient source for bacteria with diversity surveys highlighting an extensive overlap between bacterial species associated with corals and species implicated in the degradation of dimethylsulfoniopropionate (DMSP). Again using FISH and NanoSIMS approaches, this close interaction between corals, their Symbiodinium partners and associated bacteria can be visualised. Interestingly, through the metabolism of DMSP, a Pseudovibrio sp. commonly associated with corals produced tropodithietic acid (TDA), a sulfur-containing antimicrobial which is suspected to act in protecting corals from invasive microbial species. Anthropogenic stresses such as increased sea surface temperatures, nutrient input and sedimentation can shift these coral-microbiota associations, thereby contributing to reduced coral fitness. For example, production of TDA by the coral associated Pseudovibrio sp.was significantly reduced at higher temperatures potentially reducing the protective effect the compound can provide the coral holobiont. Temperature stress also causes shifts in coral associated microbial communities, with a metagenomic approach demonstrating a shift in the microbial community away from autotrophy and an increase in virulence associated genes. Coral diseases are on the rise with disease outbreaks contributing to significant loss of both key reef organisms and coral cover. Recent assessments have documented sharp declines in coral reefs globally, therefore an understanding of the microbial factors that underlie coral health and fitness are paramount.

Event Date: 
Wednesday, October 26, 2011 - 19:15 - 20:00
Institution: 
University of Queensland
Title: 

Sizing up the symbiotic partnership: towards a single-cell view of nutrients uptake in cnidaria-dinoflagellate symbiosis

Abstract: 

Reefs based on scleractinian corals are among the most productive and biologically diverse ecosystems on Earth. At the heart of their success as the architects of coral reefs, is their symbiosis with dinoflagellate algae, which live within their tissues and provide corals with an enlarged metabolic repertoire. Thus corals are ‘polytrophic’, being able to acquire carbon-based nutrients from sunlight through their algal symbionts (‘autotrophic’), feeding on plankton (‘heterotrophic’), and absorbing dissolved nutrients from the surrounding water. These strategies increase the nutritional options of corals in an environment where planktonic food supplies and dissolved nutrients in seawater may be episodic.

The intertwined nature of coral-dinoflagellate endosymbiosis has made the relative quantification of host and symbiont contributions to metabolic activities extremely difficult so far. Consequently, whilst we now recognize the threats of human activity, future climate change and associated symptoms of stress on the reef, very little is known about the nutritional function of the cnidarian-dinoflagellate symbiosis that underpins and maintains reef health.

In this talk, I will explore how the development of new technologies combining isotopic labeling and high resolution imaging analysis opens a new interdisciplinary frontier in the study of such symbiotic interactions with direct implications for how these organisms will respond to environmental changes.

Syndicate content