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Biol Bull. 2012 Aug;223(1):66-77.

Multi-partner interactions in corals in the face of climate change.

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  • 1Eckerd College, 4200 54th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, Florida 33711, USA.


Recent research has explored the possibility that increased sea-surface temperatures and decreasing pH (ocean acidification) contribute to the ongoing decline of coral reef ecosystems. Within corals, a diverse microbiome exerts significant influence on biogeochemical and ecological processes, including food webs, organismal life cycles, and chemical and nutrient cycling. Microbes on coral reefs play a critical role in regulating larval recruitment, bacterial colonization, and pathogen abundance under ambient conditions, ultimately governing the overall resilience of coral reef systems. As a result, microbial processes may be involved in reef ecosystem-level responses to climate change. Developments of new molecular technologies, in addition to multidisciplinary collaborative research on coral reefs, have led to the rapid advancement in our understanding of bacterially mediated reef responses to environmental change. Here we review new discoveries regarding (1) the onset of coral-bacterial associations; (2) the functional roles that bacteria play in healthy corals; and (3) how bacteria influence coral reef response to environmental change, leading to a model describing how reef microbiota direct ecosystem-level response to a changing global climate.

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