Specificity of associations between bacteria and the coral Pocillopora meandrina during early development. Academic Article uri icon


  • Relationships between corals and specific bacterial associates are thought to play an important role in coral health. In this study, the specificity of bacteria associating with the coral Pocillopora meandrina was investigated by exposing coral embryos to various strains of cultured marine bacteria, sterile seawater, or raw seawater and examining the identity, density, and location of incorporated cells. The isolates utilized in this experiment included members of the Roseobacter and SAR11 clades of the Alphaproteobacteria, a Pseudoalteromonas species of the Gammaproteobacteria, and a Synechococcus species of the Cyanobacteria phylum. Based on terminal restriction fragment length polymorphism analysis of small-subunit rRNA genes, similarities in bacterial communities associated with 170-h-old planulae were observed regardless of treatment, suggesting that bacteria may have been externally associated from the outset of the experiment. Microscopic examination of P. meandrina planulae by fluorescence in situ hybridization with bacterial and Roseobacter clade-specific oligonucleotide probes revealed differences in the densities and locations of planulae-associated cells. Planulae exposed to either raw seawater or strains of Pseudoalteromonas and Roseobacter harbored the highest densities of internally associated cells, of which 20 to 100% belonged to the Roseobacter clade. Planulae exposed to sterile seawater or strains of the SAR11 clade and Synechococcus did not show evidence of prominent bacterial associations. Additional analysis of the raw-seawater-exposed planulae via electron microscopy confirmed the presence of internally associated prokaryotic cells, as well as virus-like particles. These results suggest that the availability of specific microorganisms may be an important factor in the establishment of coral-bacterial relationships.

publication date

  • October 2012