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PLoS One. 2012;7(9):e44859. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0044859. Epub 2012 Sep 13.

Macroalgal extracts induce bacterial assemblage shifts and sublethal tissue stress in Caribbean corals.

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Auburn University, Department of Biological Sciences, Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama, United States of America.


Benthic macroalgae can be abundant on present-day coral reefs, especially where rates of herbivory are low and/or dissolved nutrients are high. This study investigated the impact of macroalgal extracts on both coral-associated bacterial assemblages and sublethal stress response of corals. Crude extracts and live algal thalli from common Caribbean macroalgae were applied onto the surface of Montastraea faveolata and Porites astreoides corals on reefs in both Florida and Belize. Denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE) of 16S rRNA gene amplicons was used to examine changes in the surface mucus layer (SML) bacteria in both coral species. Some of the extracts and live algae induced detectable shifts in coral-associated bacterial assemblages. However, one aqueous extract caused the bacterial assemblages to shift to an entirely new state (Lobophora variegata), whereas other organic extracts had little to no impact (e.g. Dictyota sp.). Macroalgal extracts more frequently induced sublethal stress responses in M. faveolata than in P. astreoides corals, suggesting that cellular integrity can be negatively impacted in selected corals when comparing co-occurring species. As modern reefs experience phase-shifts to a higher abundance of macroalgae with potent chemical defenses, these macroalgae are likely impacting the composition of microbial assemblages associated with corals and affecting overall reef health in unpredicted and unprecedented ways.

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