Microorganisms play a critical role in the ocean, representing the greatest amount of diversity and biomass of all marine life. They are involved in nutrient turnover, geochemical cycling, and as symbionts for a wide range of invertebrate hosts, including coral. The community of microorganisms living inside coral are referred to as the coral microbiome and they play an integral role in coral health and survival. Despite the importance of microbes for the coral host, there is a limited understanding of how the coral microbiome and their metabolic functions are affected by changing ocean conditions. In particular, the response of the coral microbiome to increasing ocean temperatures is unknown.
Significant impacts of rising ocean temperatures have been reported for many marine organisms, including disruption of life-cycle events and an increase in disease virulence and prevalence. Microorganisms that live on and in corals have been shown to be species and habitat specific. To understand how changes in environmental conditions, such as rising ocean temperatures, influence coral health we must first understand the natural variation in their microbial community and how they adapt to local conditions and seasonal temperature changes. Temporal monitoring of coral populations from several sites offers an opportunity to study how the microbial community adapts to environmental change.
Our research involves the sequencing of several coral species (e.g. Seriatopora hystrix) along with the microorganisms and photosynthetic dinoflagellates (Symbiodinium) that inhabit them, collectively referred to as the coral holobiont. Specifically, we aim to:
1.Use next generation sequencing to identify the mechanisms through which all members of the coral holobiont interact.
2.Characterise structural and functional changes in the coral microbiome over time.