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Aquatic Microbial Ecology


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AME 88:81-94 (2022)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/ame01985

Biogeography of reef water microbes from within-reef to global scales

Lei Ma1,2, Cynthia Becker1,2, Laura Weber1, Chris Sullivan3, Brian Zgliczynski3, Stuart Sandin3, Marilyn Brandt4, Tyler B. Smith4, Amy Apprill1,*

1Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, MA 02543, USA
2MIT-WHOI Joint Program in Oceanography/Applied Ocean Science & Engineering, Woods Hole office, Woods Hole, MA 02543, USA
3Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego, La Jolla, CA 92037, USA
4University of Virgin Islands, St. Thomas 00802, USVI
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Seawater microorganisms play an important role in coral reef ecosystem functioning and can be influenced by biological, chemical, and physical features of reefs. As coral reefs continue to respond to environmental changes, the reef seawater microbiome has been proposed as a conservation tool for monitoring perturbations. However, the spatial variability of reef seawater microbial communities is not well studied, limiting our ability to make generalizable inferences across reefs. In order to better understand how microorganisms are distributed at multiple spatial scales, we examined seawater microbial communities in Florida Reef Tract and US Virgin Islands reef systems using a nested sampling design. On 3 reefs per reef system, we sampled seawater at regular spatial intervals close to the benthos. We assessed the microbial community composition of these waters using ribosomal RNA gene amplicon sequencing. Our analysis revealed that reef water microbial communities varied as a function of reef system and individual reefs, but communities did not differ within reefs and were not significantly influenced by benthic composition. For the reef system and inter-reef differences, abundant microbial taxa were found to be potentially useful indicators of environmental difference due to their high prevalence and variance. We further examined reef water microbial biogeography on a global scale using a secondary analysis of 5 studies, which revealed that microbial communities were more distinct with increasing geographic distance. These results suggest that biogeography is a distinguishing feature for reef water microbiomes, and that development of monitoring criteria may necessitate regionally specific sampling and analyses.


KEY WORDS: 16S rDNA · Biogeography · Coral reef communities · Free-living bacteria · Marine microbial ecology · Meso-scale spatial variations · Secondary analysis · Microbial diversity


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Cite this article as: Ma L, Becker C, Weber L, Sullivan C and others (2022) Biogeography of reef water microbes from within-reef to global scales. Aquat Microb Ecol 88:81-94. https://doi.org/10.3354/ame01985

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