Project description:The Moorea Coral Reef Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) Site (17.50°S, 149.83°W) comprises the fringe of coral reefs and lagoons surrounding the volcanic island of Moorea in the Society Islands of French Polynesia. As part of our Microbial Inventory Research Across Diverse Aquatic LTERS biodiversity inventory project, we characterized microbial community composition across all three domains of life using amplicon pyrosequencing of the V6 (bacterial and archaeal) and V9 (eukaryotic) hypervariable regions of small-subunit ribosomal RNA genes. Our survey spanned eight locations along a 130-km transect from the reef lagoon to the open ocean to examine changes in communities along inshore to offshore gradients. Our results illustrate consistent community differentiation between inshore and offshore ecosystems across all three domains, with greater richness in all domains in the reef-associated habitats. Bacterial communities were more homogenous among open ocean sites spanning >100 km than among inshore sites separated by <1 km, whereas eukaryotic communities varied more offshore than inshore, and archaea showed more equal levels of dissimilarity among subhabitats. We identified signature communities representative of specific geographic and geochemical milieu, and characterized co-occurrence patterns of specific microbial taxa within the inshore ecosystem including several bacterial groups that persist in geographical niches across time. Bacterial and archaeal communities were dominated by few abundant taxa but spatial patterning was consistent through time and space in both rare and abundant communities. This is the first in-depth inventory analysis of biogeographic variation of all three microbial domains within a coral reef ecosystem.
Project description:Coral reefs increasingly are undergoing transitions from coral to macroalgal dominance. Although the functional roles of reef herbivores in controlling algae are becoming better understood, identifying possible tipping points in the herbivory-macroalgae relationships has remained a challenge. Assessment of where any coral reef ecosystem lies in relation to the coral-to-macroalgae tipping point is fundamental to understanding resilience properties, forecasting state shifts, and developing effective management practices. We conducted a multi-year field experiment in Moorea, French Polynesia to estimate these properties. While we found a sharp herbivory threshold where macroalgae escape control, ambient levels of herbivory by reef fishes were well above that needed to prevent proliferation of macroalgae. These findings are consistent with previously observed high resilience of the fore reef in Moorea. Our approach can identify vulnerable coral reef systems in urgent need of management action to both forestall shifts to macroalgae and preserve properties essential for resilience.
Project description:Ecological theory predicts that ecosystems with multiple basins of attraction can get locked in an undesired state, which has profound ecological and management implications. Despite their significance, alternative attractors have proven to be challenging to detect and characterize in natural communities. On coral reefs, it has been hypothesized that persistent coral-to-macroalgae “phase shifts” that can result from overfishing of herbivores and/or nutrient enrichment may reflect a regime shift to an alternate attractor, but, to date, the evidence has been equivocal. Our field experiments in Moorea, French Polynesia, revealed the following: () hysteresis existed in the herbivory–macroalgae relationship, creating the potential for coral–macroalgae bistability at some levels of herbivory, and () macroalgae were an alternative attractor under prevailing conditions in the lagoon but not on the fore reef, where ambient herbivory fell outside the experimentally delineated region of hysteresis. These findings help explain the different community responses to disturbances between lagoon and fore reef habitats of Moorea over the past several decades and reinforce the idea that reversing an undesired shift on coral reefs can be difficult. Our experimental framework represents a powerful diagnostic tool to probe for multiple attractors in ecological systems and, as such, can inform management strategies needed to maintain critical ecosystem functions in the face of escalating stresses.
Project description:Coral reefs in Moorea, French Polynesia, suffered catastrophic coral mortality through predation by Acanthaster planci from 2006 to 2010, and Cyclone Oli in 2010, yet by 2015 some coral populations were approaching pre-disturbance sizes. Using long-term study plots, we quantified population dynamics of spawning Pocillopora spp. along the north shore of Moorea between 2010 and 2014, and considered evidence that population recovery could be supported by self-seeding. Results scaled up from study plots and settlement tiles suggest that the number of Pocillopora spp. colonies on the outer reef increased 1,890-fold between 2010 and 2014/2015, and in the back reef, 8-fold between 2010 and 2014/2015. Assuming that spawning Pocillopora spp. in Moorea release similar numbers of eggs as con-generics in Hawaii, and fertilization success is similar to other spawning corals, the capacity of Pocillopora spp. to produce larvae was estimated. These estimates suggest that Pocillopora spp. in Moorea produced a large excess of larvae in 2010 and 2014 relative to the number required to produce the recruits found in the back reef and outer reef in 2010 and 2014, even assuming that ?99.9% of the larvae do not recruit in Moorea. Less than a third of the recruits in one year would have to survive to produce the juvenile Pocillopora spp. found in the back and outer reefs in 2010 and 2014/2015. Our first order approximations reveal the potential for Pocillopora spp. on the north shore of Moorea to produce enough larvae to support local recruitment and population recovery following a catastrophic disturbance.
Project description:BACKGROUND:Coral reefs are facing unprecedented pressure on local and global scales. Sensitive and rapid markers for ecosystem stress are urgently needed to underpin effective management and restoration strategies. Although the fundamental contribution of microbes to the stability and functioning of coral reefs is widely recognised, it remains unclear how different reef microbiomes respond to environmental perturbations and whether microbiomes are sensitive enough to predict environmental anomalies that can lead to ecosystem stress. However, the lack of coral reef microbial baselines hinders our ability to study the link between shifts in microbiomes and ecosystem stress. In this study, we established a comprehensive microbial reference database for selected Great Barrier Reef sites to assess the diagnostic value of multiple free-living and host-associated reef microbiomes to infer the environmental state of coral reef ecosystems. RESULTS:A comprehensive microbial reference database, originating from multiple coral reef microbiomes (i.e. seawater, sediment, corals, sponges and macroalgae), was generated by 16S rRNA gene sequencing for 381 samples collected over the course of 16 months. By coupling this database to environmental parameters, we showed that the seawater microbiome has the greatest diagnostic value to infer shifts in the surrounding reef environment. In fact, 56% of the observed compositional variation in the microbiome was explained by environmental parameters, and temporal successions in the seawater microbiome were characterised by uniform community assembly patterns. Host-associated microbiomes, in contrast, were five-times less responsive to the environment and their community assembly patterns were generally less uniform. By applying a suite of indicator value and machine learning approaches, we further showed that seawater microbial community data provide an accurate prediction of temperature and eutrophication state (i.e. chlorophyll concentration and turbidity). CONCLUSION:Our results reveal that free-living microbial communities have a high potential to infer environmental parameters due to their environmental sensitivity and predictability. This highlights the diagnostic value of microorganisms and illustrates how long-term coral reef monitoring initiatives could be enhanced by incorporating assessments of microbial communities in seawater. We therefore recommend timely integration of microbial sampling into current coral reef monitoring initiatives.
Project description:The atmosphere is the least understood biome on Earth despite its critical role as a microbial transport medium. The influence of surface cover on composition of airborne microbial communities above marine systems is unclear. Here we report evidence for a dynamic microbial presence at the ocean-atmosphere interface of a major marine ecosystem, the Great Barrier Reef, and identify that recent air mass trajectory over an oceanic or continental surface associated with observed shifts in airborne bacterial and fungal diversity. Relative abundance of shared taxa between air and coral microbiomes varied between 2.2 and 8.8% and included those identified as part of the core coral microbiome. We propose that this variable source of atmospheric inputs may in part contribute to the diverse and transient nature of the coral microbiome.
Project description:Understanding how communities respond to natural disturbances is fundamental to assess the mechanisms of ecosystem resistance and resilience. However, ecosystem responses to natural disturbances are rarely monitored both through space and time, while the factors promoting ecosystem stability act at various temporal and spatial scales. Hence, assessing both the spatial and temporal variations in species composition is important to comprehensively explore the effects of natural disturbances. Here, we suggest a framework to better scrutinize the mechanisms underlying community responses to disturbances through both time and space. Our analytical approach is based on beta diversity decomposition into two components, replacement and biomass difference. We illustrate this approach using a 9-year monitoring of coral reef fish communities off Moorea Island (French Polynesia), which encompassed two severe natural disturbances: a crown-of-thorns starfish outbreak and a hurricane. These disturbances triggered a fast logistic decline in coral cover, which suffered a 90% decrease on all reefs. However, we found that the coral reef fish composition remained largely stable through time and space whereas compensatory changes in biomass among species were responsible for most of the temporal fluctuations, as outlined by the overall high contribution of the replacement component to total beta diversity. This suggests that, despite the severity of the two disturbances, fish communities exhibited high resistance and the ability to reorganize their compositions to maintain the same level of total community biomass as before the disturbances. We further investigated the spatial congruence of this pattern and showed that temporal dynamics involved different species across sites; yet, herbivores controlling the proliferation of algae that compete with coral communities were consistently favored. These results suggest that compensatory changes in biomass among species and spatial heterogeneity in species responses can provide further insurance against natural disturbances in coral reef ecosystems by promoting high levels of key species (herbivores). They can also allow the ecosystem to recover more quickly.
Project description:Coral reefs are highly productive ecosystems bathed in unproductive, low-nutrient oceanic waters, where microbially dominated food webs are supported largely by bacterioplankton recycling of dissolved compounds. Despite evidence that benthic reef organisms efficiently scavenge particulate organic matter and inorganic nutrients from advected oceanic waters, our understanding of the role of bacterioplankton and dissolved organic matter (DOM) in the interaction between reefs and the surrounding ocean remains limited. In this study, we present the results of a 4-year study conducted in a well-characterized coral reef ecosystem (Paopao Bay, Moorea, French Polynesia) where changes in bacterioplankton abundance and dissolved organic carbon (DOC) concentrations were quantified and bacterial community structure variation was examined along spatial gradients of the reef:ocean interface. Our results illustrate that the reef is consistently depleted in concentrations of both DOC and bacterioplankton relative to offshore waters (averaging 79 ?mol l(-1) DOC and 5.5 × 10(8) cells l(-1) offshore and 68 ?mol l(-1) DOC and 3.1 × 10(8) cells l(-1) over the reef, respectively) across a 4-year time period. In addition, using a suite of culture-independent measures of bacterial community structure, we found consistent differentiation of reef bacterioplankton communities from those offshore or in a nearby embayment across all taxonomic levels. Reef habitats were enriched in Gamma-, Delta-, and Betaproteobacteria, Bacteriodetes, Actinobacteria and Firmicutes. Specific bacterial phylotypes, including members of the SAR11, SAR116, Flavobacteria, and Synechococcus clades, exhibited clear gradients in relative abundance among nearshore habitats. Our observations indicate that this reef system removes oceanic DOC and exerts selective pressures on bacterioplankton community structure on timescales approximating reef water residence times, observations which are notable both because fringing reefs do not exhibit long residence times (unlike those characteristic of atoll lagoons) and because oceanic DOC is generally recalcitrant to degradation by ambient microbial assemblages. Our findings thus have interesting implications for the role of oceanic DOM and bacterioplankton in the ecology and metabolism of reef ecosystems.
Project description:Reef-building corals can harbour high abundances of diverse invertebrate epifauna. Coral characteristics and environmental conditions are important drivers of community structure of coral-associated invertebrates; however, our current understanding of drivers of epifaunal distributions is still unclear. This study tests the relative importance of the physical environment (current flow speed) and host quality (e.g., colony height, surface area, distance between branches, penetration depth among branches, and background partial mortality) in structuring epifaunal communities living within branching Pocillopora colonies on a back reef in Moorea, French Polynesia. A total of 470 individuals belonging to four phyla, 16 families and 39 genera were extracted from 36 Pocillopora spp. colonies. Decapods were the most abundant epifaunal organisms (accounting for 84% of individuals) found living in Pocillopora spp. While coral host characteristics and flow regime are very important, these parameters were not correlated with epifaunal assemblages at the time of the study. Epifaunal assemblages associated with Pocillopora spp. were consistent and minimally affected by differences in host characteristics and flow regime. The consistency in abundance and taxon richness among colonies (regardless of habitat characteristics) highlighted the importance of total habitat availability. With escalating effects of climate change and other localized disturbances, it is critical to preserve branching corals to support epifaunal communities.
Project description:Benthic primary producers in marine ecosystems may significantly alter biogeochemical cycling and microbial processes in their surrounding environment. To examine these interactions, we studied dissolved organic matter release by dominant benthic taxa and subsequent microbial remineralization in the lagoonal reefs of Moorea, French Polynesia. Rates of photosynthesis, respiration, and dissolved organic carbon (DOC) release were assessed for several common benthic reef organisms from the backreef habitat. We assessed microbial community response to dissolved exudates of each benthic producer by measuring bacterioplankton growth, respiration, and DOC drawdown in two-day dark dilution culture incubations. Experiments were conducted for six benthic producers: three species of macroalgae (each representing a different algal phylum: Turbinaria ornata--Ochrophyta; Amansia rhodantha--Rhodophyta; Halimeda opuntia--Chlorophyta), a mixed assemblage of turf algae, a species of crustose coralline algae (Hydrolithon reinboldii) and a dominant hermatypic coral (Porites lobata). Our results show that all five types of algae, but not the coral, exuded significant amounts of labile DOC into their surrounding environment. In general, primary producers with the highest rates of photosynthesis released the most DOC and yielded the greatest bacterioplankton growth; turf algae produced nearly twice as much DOC per unit surface area than the other benthic producers (14.0±2.8 µmol h?¹ dm?²), stimulating rapid bacterioplankton growth (0.044±0.002 log10 cells h?¹) and concomitant oxygen drawdown (0.16±0.05 µmol L?¹ h?¹ dm?²). Our results demonstrate that benthic reef algae can release a significant fraction of their photosynthetically-fixed carbon as DOC, these release rates vary by species, and this DOC is available to and consumed by reef associated microbes. These data provide compelling evidence that benthic primary producers differentially influence reef microbial dynamics and biogeochemical parameters (i.e., DOC and oxygen availability, bacterial abundance and metabolism) in coral reef communities.