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Microbial diversity associated with four functional groups of benthic reef algae and the reef-building coral Montastraea annularis


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The coral reef benthos is primarily colonized by corals and algae, which are often in direct competition with one another for space. Numerous studies have shown that coral-associated Bacteria are different from the surrounding seawater and are at least partially species specific (i.e. the same bacterial species on the same coral species). Here we extend these microbial studies to four of the major ecological functional groups of algae found on coral reefs: upright and encrusting calcifying algae, fleshy algae, and turf algae, and compare the results to the communities found on the reef-building coral Montastraea annularis. It was found using 16S rDNA tag pyrosequencing that the different algal genera harbour characteristic bacterial communities, and these communities were generally more diverse than those found on corals. While the majority of coral-associated Bacteria were related to known heterotrophs, primarily consuming carbon-rich coral mucus, algal-associated communities harboured a high percentage of autotrophs. The majority of algal-associated autotrophic Bacteria were Cyanobacteria and may be important for nitrogen cycling on the algae. There was also a rich diversity of photosynthetic eukaryotes associated with the algae, including protists, diatoms, and other groups of microalgae. Together, these observations support the hypothesis that coral reefs are a vast landscape of distinctive microbial communities and extend the holobiont concept to benthic algae.