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Thermal stress responses in the bacterial biosphere of the Great Barrier Reef sponge, Rhopaloeides odorabile


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Marine sponges are diverse, abundant and provide a crucial coupling point between benthic and pelagic habitats due to their high filtration rates. They also harbour extensive microbial communities, with many microbial phylotypes found exclusively in sponge hosts and not in the seawater or surrounding environment, i.e. so-called sponge-specific clusters (SCs) or sponge- and coral-specific clusters (SCCs). We employed DNA (16S rRNA gene) and RNA (16S rRNA)-based amplicon pyrosequencing to investigate the effects of sublethal thermal stress on the bacterial biosphere of the Great Barrier Reef sponge Rhopaloeides odorabile. A total of 8381 operational taxonomic units (OTUs) (97% sequence similarity) were identified, affiliated with 32 bacterial phyla from seawater samples, 23 bacterial phyla from sponge DNA extracts and 18 bacterial phyla from sponge RNA extracts. Sublethal thermal stress (31°C) had no effect on the present and/or active portions of the R. odorabile bacterial community but a shift in the bacterial assemblage was observed in necrotic sponges. Over two-thirds of DNA and RNA sequences could be assigned to previously defined SCs/SCCs in healthy sponges whereas only 12% of reads from necrotic sponges could be assigned to SCs/SCCs. A rapid decline in host health over a 1°C temperature increment suggests that sponges such as R. odorabile may be highly vulnerable to the effects of global climate change.