Project Title: How does the microbial consortium associated with corals contribute to coral health?
Reef-building corals are associated with a specific microbial consortium growing on and within the host organism. These microbes (mostly bacteria) perform various functions including nitrogen fixation, photosynthesis and anti bacterial defence. Despite their vital services to corals, bacteria have been largely overlooked when considering coral health and biology. It is possible however, that bacteria may have crucial significance to the future success of corals, in their continuing struggle against climate change.
1. To investigate the role bacteria provide to coral health and function through experimentally reducing bacterial populations. The physiological responses by the host and algal symbiont to a depleted bacterial community will be examined, combined with monitoring of microbial community changes.
2. To consider the importance of the bacterial community as a stress resilience mechanism for corals. In the context of climate change, coral reefs are being increasingly subjected to warmer sea-surface temperatures combined with intense light, which has been correlated with mass coral bleaching events.
In order to determine the significance bacteria contribute to coral resistance to bleaching, bacteria-reduced specimens will be subjected to coral bleaching conditions (increased temperature and light intensity) and compared to bacteria-intact specimens. It is anticipated that bacteria are necessary for the maintenance of coral health, therefore, corals with a weakened bacterial population will show a greater susceptibility to bleaching, indicating the vital role bacteria provide to the success of corals.