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Summary

Marine sponges are critical components of benthic environments; however, their sessile habit, requirement to filter large volumes of water and complex symbiotic partnerships make them particularly vulnerable to the effects of global climate change. We assessed the effect of elevated seawater temperature on bacterial communities in larvae of the Great Barrier Reef sponge, Rhopaloeides odorabile. In contrast to the strict thermal threshold of 32°C previously identified in adult R. odorabile, larvae exhibit a markedly higher thermal tolerance, with no adverse health effects detected at temperatures below 36°C. Similarly, larval microbial communities were conserved at temperatures up to 34°C with a highly significant shift occurring after 24 h at 36°C. This shift involved the loss of previously described symbionts (in particular the Nitrospira, Chloroflexi and a Roseobacter lineage) and the appearance of new Gammaproteobacteria not detected at lower temperatures. Here, we demonstrated that sponge larvae maintain highly stable symbioses at seawater temperatures exceeding those that are predicted under current climate change scenarios. In addition, by revealing that the shift in microbial composition occurs in conjunction with necrosis and mortality of larvae at 36°C we have provided additional evidence of the strong link between host health and the stability of symbiont communities.