MEPS 288:1-8 (2005)  -  doi:10.3354/meps288001

Spatial dynamics of virus-like particles and heterotrophic bacteria within a shallow coral reef system

Justin R. Seymour1,*, Nicole Patten1, David G. Bourne2, James G. Mitchell1,3

1Biological Sciences, Flinders University, PO Box 2100, Adelaide, South Australia 5001, Australia
2Australian Institute of Marine Science, PMB No. 3, Cape Ferguson, Townsville, Queensland 4810, Australia
3Marine Microbiology, Ocean Research Institute, University of Tokyo, 1–15–1 Minamidai, Nakano-ku, Tokyo 164–8639, Japan

ABSTRACT: Variations in the abundance and community characteristics of virus-like particles (VLP) and heterotrophic bacteria within a shallow, near-shore coral reef were determined using flow cytometric analysis. Mean concentrations of 6.5 × 105 and 1.3 × 105 ml–1 were observed for VLP and bacterioplankton, respectively, although concentrations of both populations varied significantly (p < 0.05) between 4 distinct reef water types. Significant (p < 0.05) variability in the percentage of high DNA (HDNA) bacteria, applied here as an estimate of the proportion of active bacterial cells, and the virus:bacteria ratio (VBR) was also observed between different reef water types. Microscale profiles were taken in the 12 cm layer of water directly above the surface of coral colonies to determine the small-scale spatial relationships between coral colonies and planktonic microbial communities. Across these profiles, mean changes of 2- and 3.5-fold were observed for bacterioplankton and VLP communities, respectively, with VLP abundance positively correlated to bacteria in 75% of profiles. Bacterial and VLP abundance, percentage of HDNA bacteria, and VBR all generally exhibited increasing trends with proximity to the coral surface. VLP abundance was significantly higher (p < 0.05) in the 4 cm closest to the coral surface, and the VBR was higher at the coral surface than in any other zone. The patterns observed here indicate that VLP represent an abundant and dynamic community within coral reefs, are apparently coupled to the spatial dynamics of the bacterioplankton community, and may consequently significantly influence nutrient cycling rates and food-web structure within coral reef ecosystems.

KEY WORDS: Coral reefs · Virus-like particles · Bacterioplankton

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