Coral Reefs

, Volume 34, Issue 4, pp 1087–1098 | Cite as

Evidence for host specificity among dominant bacterial symbionts in temperate gorgonian corals

  • Marie La Rivière
  • Joaquim Garrabou
  • Marc Bally


Gorgonian corals serve as key engineering species within Mediterranean rocky-shore communities that have recently suffered from repeated mortality events during warm temperature anomalies. Among the factors that may link thermal conditions with disease outbreaks, a number of bacterial pathogens have been implicated; they may take advantage of decreases in the defenses and/or overall health of the gorgonian hosts. Considering the beneficial role of the resident bacteria in tropical coral holobionts, a detailed characterization of the gorgonian-associated microbial populations is required to better understand the relationships among native microbiota, host fitness, and pathogen susceptibility. In this study, the bacterial communities associated with three sympatric gorgonian species, Eunicella singularis, Eunicella cavolini, and Corallium rubrum, were investigated to provide insight into the stability and the specificity of host–microbe interactions. Natural variations in bacterial communities were detected using terminal restriction fragment length polymorphism (T-RFLP) of the 16S ribosomal DNA. No major differences were identified between individual colonies sampled in winter or in summer within each gorgonian species. Although hierarchical cluster analysis of the T-RFLP profiles revealed that the three species harbor distinct communities, comparison of the T-RFLP peaks indicated the presence of common bacterial ribotypes. From phylogenetic analysis of 16S rDNA clone libraries, we identified a bacterial lineage related to the Hahellaceae family within the Oceanospirillales that is shared among E. singularis, E. cavolini, and C. rubrum and that dominates the communities of both species of Eunicella. However, distinct clades of Hahellaceae are harbored by various gorgonian species from Mediterranean and tropical waters, suggesting that these bacteria have formed host-specific symbiotic relationships with gorgonian octocorals. In addition, the relatedness of symbionts from host species belonging to the same taxon but occurring in geographically remote areas is consistent with codivergence between gorgonians and their associated bacteria.


Gorgonians Corals Bacteria Hahellaceae Host specificity Mediterranean Sea 



The authors gratefully acknowledge Olivier Bianchimani, Christian Marschal, and Frederic Zuberer for their help with field sampling. We thank Simon Bonato, Jérôme Paperou, and Caroline Rocher for assistance with the T-RFLP experiments and clone library construction. We further thank Marie Roumagnac for assistance regarding sequence analysis and three anonymous reviewers for their help improving the manuscript. This research was supported by the Total Foundation for Marine Biodiversity.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marie La Rivière
    • 1
  • Joaquim Garrabou
    • 1
    • 2
  • Marc Bally
    • 1
  1. 1.Aix Marseille Université, CNRSUniversité de ToulonMarseilleFrance
  2. 2.Institut de Ciències del Mar (ICM-CSIC)BarcelonaSpain

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