TitleMonitoring additional values within the Reef 2050 Integrated Monitoring and Reporting Program: final report of the microbes expert group
Publication TypeReport
Year of Publication2019
AuthorsWebster NS, Gorsuch H

Coral reefs are increasingly affected by localised impacts such as declining water quality and global pressures resulting from human-induced climate change, which severely alters the natural conditions on reefs and can push dominating benthic life forms towards the limit of their resistance and resilience. 
Microorganisms play a fundamental role in the functioning and stability of coral reef ecosystems. However, environmental disturbance can trigger alterations to the composition and function of coral reef microbes, with detrimental consequences for biogeochemical cycling and the functioning of the entire coral reef ecosystem. In addition, environmental stress can alter the associated microbiome of reef organisms such as corals, disrupting the holobiont equilibrium, shifting defensive mechanisms and nutrient cycling pathways that contribute to bleaching and disease. Coral reef microorganisms can buffer or exacerbate cumulative impacts via their role in holobiont fitness as well as by modifying energy flow within the ecosystem and are therefore central to reef resilience. 
Microorganisms respond very rapidly to altered environmental conditions so defining their natural variability over spatial and temporal scales is valuable for early and accurate identification of environmental disturbances. The rapid diagnostic response of microbes to environmental change is likely to confer significant advantages over traditional reef monitoring methods, which are based on visual signs of health deterioration in benthic coral reef macroorganisms. 
This report outlines the functional roles microorganisms play on coral reefs, discusses the potential of microbes as early warning indicators for environmental stress and coral reef health; proposes recommendations and priorities for future research to address key knowledge gaps; and provides recommendations for incorporating microorganisms into existing monitoring programs for the Great Barrier Reef (the Reef).



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Level 5, Molecular Biosciences Bldg
University of Queensland
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