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Summary

The microbial community associated with the reef building coral Pocillopora damicornis located on the Great Barrier Reef was investigated using culture-independent molecular microbial techniques. The microbial communities of three separate coral colonies were assessed using clone library construction alongside restriction fragment length polymorphism and phylogenetic analysis. Diversity was also investigated spatially across six replicate samples within each single coral colony using 16S rDNA and rpoB-DGGE analysis. Clone libraries demonstrated that the majority of retrieved sequences from coral tissue slurry libraries affiliated with γ-Proteobacteria. This contrasted with clone libraries of seawater and coral mucus, which were dominated by α-Proteobacteria. A number of retrieved clone sequences were conserved between coral colonies; a result consistent with previous studies suggesting a specific microbe–coral association. rpoB-DGGE patterns of replicate tissue slurry samples underestimated microbial diversity, but demonstrated that fingerprints were identical within the same coral. These fingerprints were also conserved across coral colonies. The 16S rDNA-DGGE patterns of replicate tissue slurry samples were more complex, although non-metric multidimensional scaling (nMDS) analysis showed groupings of these banding patterns indicating that some bacterial diversity was uniform within a coral colony. Sequence data retrieved from DGGE analysis support clone library data in that the majority of affiliations were within the γ-Proteobacteria. Many sequences retrieved also affiliated closely with sequences derived from previous studies of microbial diversity of healthy corals in the Caribbean. Clones showing high 16S rDNA sequence identity to both Vibrio shiloi and Vibrio coralliilyticus were retrieved, suggesting that these may be opportunist pathogens. Comparisons of retrieved microbial diversity between two different sampling methods, a syringe extracted coral mucus sample and an airbrushed coral tissue slurry sample were also investigated. Non-metric multidimensional scaling of clone library data highlighted that clone diversity retrieved from a coral mucus library more closely reflected the diversity of surrounding seawater than a corresponding coral tissue clone library.