Exceptional but vulnerable microbial diversity in coral reef animal surface microbiomes

Coral reefs host hundreds of thousands of animal species that are increasingly threatened by anthropogenic disturbances. These animals host microbial communities at their surface, playing crucial roles for their fitness. However, the diversity of such microbiomes is mostly described in a few coral species and still poorly defined in other invertebrates and vertebrates. Given the diversity of animal microbiomes, and the diversity of host species inhabiting coral reefs, the contribution of such microbiomes to the total microbial diversity of coral reefs could be important, yet potentially vulnerable to the loss of animal species. Analysis of the surface microbiome from 74 taxa, including teleost fishes, hard and soft corals, crustaceans, echinoderms, bivalves and sponges, revealed that more than 90% of their prokaryotic phylogenetic richness was specific and not recovered in surrounding plankton. Estimate of the total richness associated with coral reef animal surface microbiomes reached up to 2.5% of current estimates of Earth prokaryotic diversity. Therefore, coral reef animal surfaces should be recognized as a hotspot of marine microbial diversity. Loss of the most vulnerable reef animals expected under present-day scenarios of reef degradation would induce an erosion of 28% of the prokaryotic richness, with unknown consequences on coral reef ecosystem functioning.


skin microbiota, phylogenetic diversity, conservation, marine biodiversity, Octocorallia, Scleratinia

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Chiarello Marlène, Auguet Jean-Christophe, Graham Nicholas A. J., Claverie Thomas, Sucré Elliott, Bouvier Corinne, Rieuvilleneuve Fabien, Restrepo-Ortiz Claudia Ximena, Bettarel Yvan, Villéger Sébastien, Bouvier Thierry (2020). Exceptional but vulnerable microbial diversity in coral reef animal surface microbiomes. Proceedings Of The Royal Society B-biological Sciences. 287 (1927). 20200642 (10p.). https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2020.0642, https://archimer.ifremer.fr/doc/00629/74121/

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