Seasonal Stability in the Microbiomes of Temperate Gorgonians and the Red Coral Corallium rubrum Across the Mediterranean Sea


Populations of key benthic habitat-forming octocoral species have declined significantly in the Mediterranean Sea due to mass mortality events caused by microbial disease outbreaks linked to high summer seawater temperatures. Recently, we showed that the microbial communities of these octocorals are relatively structured; however, our knowledge on the seasonal dynamics of these microbiomes is still limited. To investigate their seasonal stability, we collected four soft gorgonian species (Eunicella singularis, Eunicella cavolini, Eunicella verrucosa and Leptogorgia sarmentosa) and the precious red coral (Corallium rubrum) from two coastal locations with different terrestrial impact levels in the Mediterranean Sea, and used next-generation amplicon sequencing of the 16S rRNA gene. The microbiomes of all soft gorgonian species were dominated by the same ‘core microbiome’ bacteria belonging to the Endozoicomonas and the Cellvibrionales clade BD1-7, whereas the red coral microbiome was primarily composed of ‘core’ Spirochaetes, Oceanospirillales ME2 and Parcubacteria. The associations with these bacterial taxa were relatively consistent over time at each location for each octocoral species. However, differences in microbiome composition and seasonal dynamics were observed between locations and could primarily be attributed to locally variant bacteria. Overall, our data provide further evidence of the intricate symbiotic relationships that exist between Mediterranean octocorals and their associated microbes, which are ancient and highly conserved over both space and time, and suggest regulation of the microbiome composition by the host, depending on local conditions.

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The authors would like to thank Stéphanie Reynaud and Eric Beraud from the Centre Scientifique de Monaco, and Gabriella Cerrati and Andrea Bordone from ENEA for help with sample collections. Craig Michell is thanked for his assistance with the 16S gene amplicon library preparation. We would also like to thank the Paul Hamel Foundation and KAUST for financial support.

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Correspondence to Jeroen A. J. M. van de Water.

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van de Water, J.A.J.M., Voolstra, C.R., Rottier, C. et al. Seasonal Stability in the Microbiomes of Temperate Gorgonians and the Red Coral Corallium rubrum Across the Mediterranean Sea. Microb Ecol 75, 274–288 (2018).

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  • Endozoicomonas
  • Spirochaetes
  • Red coral
  • Gorgonian
  • 16S rRNA gene
  • Bacterial community
  • Holobiont
  • Evolution
  • Microbiome
  • Symbiosis