Microbes support enhanced nitrogen requirements of coral holobionts in a high CO2 environment
2021-11, Meunier, Valentine, Geißler, Laura, Bonnet, Sophie, Rädecker, Nils, Perna, Gabriela, Grosso, Olivier, Lambert, Christophe, Rodolfo-Metalpa, Riccardo, Voolstra, Christian R., Houlbrèque, Fanny
Ocean acidification is posing a threat to calcifying organisms due to the increased energy requirements of calcification under high CO2 conditions. The ability of scleractinian corals to cope with future ocean conditions will thus depend on their ability to fulfill their carbon requirement. However, the primary productivity of coral holobionts is limited by low nitrogen (N) availability in coral reef waters. Here, we employed CO2 seeps of Tutum Bay (Papua New Guinea) as a natural laboratory to understand how coral holobionts offset their increased energy requirements under high CO2 conditions. Our results demonstrate for the first time that under high pCO2 conditions, N assimilation pathways of Pocillopora damicornis are jointly modified. We found that diazotroph-derived N assimilation rates in the Symbiodiniaceae were significantly higher in comparison to an ambient CO2 control site, concomitant with a restructured diazotroph community and the specific prevalence of an alpha-proteobacterium. Further, corals at the high CO2 site also had increased feeding rates on picoplankton and in particular exhibited selective feeding on Synechococcus sp., known to be rich in N. Given the high abundance of picoplankton in oligotrophic waters at large, our results suggest that corals exhibiting flexible diazotrophic communities and capable of exploiting N-rich picoplankton sources to offset their increased N requirements may be able to cope better in a high pCO2 world.
Nitrogen fixation and denitrification activity differ between coral- and algae-dominated Red Sea reefs
2021-06-03, El-Khaled, Yusuf C., Roth, Florian, Rädecker, Nils, Tilstra, Arjen, Karcher, Denis B., Kürten, Benjamin, Jones, Burton H., Voolstra, Christian R., Wild, Christian
Coral reefs experience phase shifts from coral- to algae-dominated benthic communities, which could affect the interplay between processes introducing and removing bioavailable nitrogen. However, the magnitude of such processes, i.e., dinitrogen (N2) fixation and denitrification levels, and their responses to phase shifts remain unknown in coral reefs. We assessed both processes for the dominant species of six benthic categories (hard corals, soft corals, turf algae, coral rubble, biogenic rock, and reef sands) accounting for > 98% of the benthic cover of a central Red Sea coral reef. Rates were extrapolated to the relative benthic cover of the studied organisms in co-occurring coral- and algae-dominated areas of the same reef. In general, benthic categories with high N2 fixation exhibited low denitrification activity. Extrapolated to the respective reef area, turf algae and coral rubble accounted for > 90% of overall N2 fixation, whereas corals contributed to more than half of reef denitrification. Total N2 fixation was twice as high in algae- compared to coral-dominated areas, whereas denitrification levels were similar. We conclude that algae-dominated reefs promote new nitrogen input through enhanced N2 fixation and comparatively low denitrification. The subsequent increased nitrogen availability could support net productivity, resulting in a positive feedback loop that increases the competitive advantage of algae over corals in reefs that experienced a phase shift.
Heat stress destabilizes symbiotic nutrient cycling in corals
2021-02-02, Rädecker, Nils, Pogoreutz, Claudia, Gegner, Hagen M., Cárdenas, Anny, Roth, Florian, Bougoure, Jeremy, Guagliardo, Paul, Wild, Christian, Pernice, Mathieu, Voolstra, Christian R.
Recurrent mass bleaching events are pushing coral reefs worldwide to the brink of ecological collapse. While the symptoms and consequences of this breakdown of the coral-algal symbiosis have been extensively characterized, our understanding of the underlying causes remains incomplete. Here, we investigated the nutrient fluxes and the physiological as well as molecular responses of the widespread coral Stylophora pistillata to heat stress prior to the onset of bleaching to identify processes involved in the breakdown of the coral-algal symbiosis. We show that altered nutrient cycling during heat stress is a primary driver of the functional breakdown of the symbiosis. Heat stress increased the metabolic energy demand of the coral host, which was compensated by the catabolic degradation of amino acids. The resulting shift from net uptake to release of ammonium by the coral holobiont subsequently promoted the growth of algal symbionts and retention of photosynthates. Together, these processes form a feedback loop that will gradually lead to the decoupling of carbon translocation from the symbiont to the host. Energy limitation and altered symbiotic nutrient cycling are thus key factors in the early heat stress response, directly contributing to the breakdown of the coral-algal symbiosis. Interpreting the stability of the coral holobiont in light of its metabolic interactions provides a missing link in our understanding of the environmental drivers of bleaching and may ultimately help uncover fundamental processes underpinning the functioning of endosymbioses in general.
Relative abundance of nitrogen cycling microbes in coral holobionts reflects environmental nitrate availability
2021, Tilstra, Arjen, Roth, Florian, El-Khaled, Yusuf C., Pogoreutz, Claudia, Rädecker, Nils, Voolstra, Christian R., Wild, Christian
Recent research suggests that nitrogen (N) cycling microbes are important for coral holobiont functioning. In particular, coral holobionts may acquire bioavailable N via prokaryotic dinitrogen (N2) fixation or remove excess N via denitrification activity. However, our understanding of environmental drivers on these processes in hospite remains limited. Employing the strong seasonality of the central Red Sea, this study assessed the effects of environmental parameters on the proportional abundances of N cycling microbes associated with the hard corals Acropora hemprichii and Stylophora pistillata. Specifically, we quantified changes in the relative ratio between nirS and nifH gene copy numbers, as a proxy for seasonal shifts in denitrification and N2 fixation potential in corals, respectively. In addition, we assessed coral tissue-associated Symbiodiniaceae cell densities and monitored environmental parameters to provide a holobiont and environmental context, respectively. While ratios of nirS to nifH gene copy numbers varied between seasons, they revealed similar seasonal patterns in both coral species, with ratios closely following patterns in environmental nitrate availability. Symbiodiniaceae cell densities aligned with environmental nitrate availability, suggesting that the seasonal shifts in nirS to nifH gene abundance ratios were probably driven by nitrate availability in the coral holobiont. Thereby, our results suggest that N cycling in coral holobionts probably adjusts to environmental conditions by increasing and/or decreasing denitrification and N2 fixation potential according to environmental nitrate availability. Microbial N cycling may, thus, extenuate the effects of changes in environmental nitrate availability on coral holobionts to support the maintenance of the coral–Symbiodiniaceae symbiosis.
Integrating environmental variability to broaden the research on coral responses to future ocean conditions
2021-11, Ziegler, Maren, Anton, Andrea, Klein, Shannon G., Rädecker, Nils, Geraldi, Nathan R., Schmidt-Roach, Sebastian, Saderne, Vincent, Mumby, Peter J., Cziesielski, Maha J., Voolstra, Christian R.
Our understanding of the response of reef-building corals to changes in their physical environment is largely based on laboratory experiments, analysis of long-term field data, and model projections. Experimental data provide unique insights into how organisms respond to variation of environmental drivers. However, an assessment of how well experimental conditions cover the breadth of environmental conditions and variability where corals live successfully is missing. Here, we compiled and analyzed a globally distributed dataset of in-situ seasonal and diurnal variability of key environmental drivers (temperature, pCO2 , and O2 ) critical for the growth and livelihood of reef-building corals. Using a meta-analysis approach, we compared the variability of environmental conditions assayed in coral experimental studies to current and projected conditions in their natural habitats. We found that annual temperature profiles projected for the end of the 21st century were characterized by distributional shifts in temperatures with warmer winters and longer warm periods in the summer, not just peak temperatures. Furthermore, short-term hourly fluctuations of temperature and pCO2 may regularly expose corals to conditions beyond the projected average increases for the end of the 21st century. Coral reef sites varied in the degree of coupling between temperature, pCO2 , and dissolved O2 , which warrants site-specific, differentiated experimental approaches depending on the local hydrography and influence of biological processes on the carbonate system and O2 availability. Our analysis highlights that a large portion of the natural environmental variability at short and long timescales is underexplored in experimental designs, which may provide a path to extend our understanding on the response of corals to global climate change.
High plasticity of nitrogen fixation and denitrification of common coral reef substrates in response to nitrate availability
2021-05-14, El-Khaled, Yusuf C., Nafeh, Rassil, Roth, Florian, Rädecker, Nils, Karcher, Denis B., Jones, Burton H., Voolstra, Christian R., Wild, Christian
Nitrogen cycling in coral reefs may be affected by nutrient availability, but knowledge about concentration-dependent thresholds that modulate dinitrogen fixation and denitrification is missing. We determined the effects of different nitrate concentrations (ambient, 1, 5, 10 μM nitrate addition) on both processes under two light scenarios (i.e., light and dark) using a combined acetylene assay for two common benthic reef substrates, i.e., turf algae and coral rubble. For both substrates, dinitrogen fixation rates peaked at 5 μM nitrate addition in light, whereas denitrification was highest at 10 μM nitrate addition in the dark. At 10 μm nitrate addition in the dark, a near-complete collapse of dinitrogen fixation concurrent with a 76-fold increase in denitrification observed for coral rubble, suggesting potential threshold responses linked to the nutritional state of the community. We conclude that dynamic nitrogen cycling activity may help stabilise nitrogen availability in microbial communities associated with coral reef substrates.
High summer temperatures amplify functional differences between coral- and algae-dominated reef communities
2021-02, Roth, Florian, Rädecker, Nils, Carvalho, Susana, Duarte, Carlos M, Saderne, Vincent, Anton, Andrea, Silva, Luis, Calleja, Maria Ll, Morán, Xosé Anxelu G, Voolstra, Christian R.
Shifts from coral to algal dominance are expected to increase in tropical coral reefs as a result of anthropogenic disturbances. The consequences for key ecosystem functions such as primary productivity, calcification, and nutrient recycling are poorly understood, particularly under changing environmental conditions. We used a novel in situ incubation approach to compare functions of coral- and algae-dominated communities in the central Red Sea bi-monthly over an entire year. In situ gross and net community primary productivity, calcification, dissolved organic carbon fluxes, dissolved inorganic nitrogen fluxes, and their respective activation energies were quantified to describe the effects of seasonal changes. Overall, coral-dominated communities exhibited 30% lower net productivity and 10 times higher calcification than algae-dominated communities. Estimated activation energies indicated a higher thermal sensitivity of coral-dominated communities. In these communities, net productivity and calcification were negatively correlated with temperature (>40% and >65% reduction, respectively, with +5°C increase from winter to summer), while carbon losses via respiration and dissolved organic carbon release were more than doubled at higher temperatures. In contrast, algae-dominated communities doubled net productivity in summer, while calcification and dissolved organic carbon fluxes were unaffected. These results suggest pronounced changes in community functioning associated with phase shifts. Algae-dominated communities may outcompete coral-dominated communities due to their higher productivity and carbon retention to support fast biomass accumulation while compromising the formation of important reef framework structures. Higher temperatures likely amplify these functional differences, indicating a high vulnerability of ecosystem functions of coral-dominated communities to temperatures even below coral bleaching thresholds. Our results suggest that ocean warming may not only cause but also amplify coral-algal phase shifts in coral reefs.
Highly Variable and Non-complex Diazotroph Communities in Corals From Ambient and High CO2 Environments
2021-10-28, Geißler, Laura, Meunier, Valentine, Rädecker, Nils, Perna, Gabriela, Rodolfo-Metalpa, Riccardo, Houlbrèque, Fanny, Voolstra, Christian R.
The ecological success of corals depends on their association with microalgae and a diverse bacterial assemblage. Ocean acidification (OA), among other stressors, threatens to impair host-microbial metabolic interactions that underlie coral holobiont functioning. Volcanic CO2 seeps offer a unique opportunity to study the effects of OA in natural reef settings and provide insight into the long-term adaptations under a low pH environment. Here we compared nitrogen-fixing bacteria (diazotrophs) associated with four coral species (Pocillopora damicornis, Galaxea fascicularis, Acropora secale, and Porites rus) collected from CO2 seeps at Tutum Bay (Papua New Guinea) with those from a nearby ambient CO2 site using nifH amplicon sequencing to characterize the effects of seawater pH on bacterial communities and nitrogen cycling. Diazotroph communities were of generally low diversity across all coral species and for both sampling sites. Out of a total of 25 identified diazotroph taxa, 14 were associated with P. damicornis, of which 9 were shared across coral species. None of the diazotroph taxa, however, were consistently found across all coral species or across all samples within a species pointing to a high degree of diazotroph community variability. Rather, the majority of sampled colonies were dominated by one or two diazotroph taxa of high relative abundance. Pocillopora damicornis and Galaxea fascicularis that were sampled in both environments showed contrasting community assemblages between sites. In P. damicornis, Gammaproteobacteria and Cyanobacteria were prevalent under ambient pCO2, while a single member of the family Rhodobacteraceae was present at high relative abundance at the high pCO2 site. Conversely, in G. fascicularis diazotroph communities were indifferent between both sites. Diazotroph community changes in response to OA seem thus variable within as well as between host species, potentially arguing for haphazard diazotroph community assembly. This warrants further research into the underlying factors structuring diazotroph community assemblages and their functional role in the coral holobiont.
Nutrient pollution enhances productivity and framework dissolution in algae- but not in coral-dominated reef communities
2021-05-10, Roth, Florian, El-Khaled, Yusuf C., Karcher, Denis B., Rädecker, Nils, Carvalho, Susana, Duarte, Carlos M., Silva, Luis, Calleja, Maria Ll., Morán, Xosé Anxelu G., Voolstra, Christian R.
Ecosystem services provided by coral reefs may be susceptible to the combined effects of benthic species shifts and anthropogenic nutrient pollution, but related field studies are scarce. We thus investigated in situ how dissolved inorganic nutrient enrichment, maintained for two months, affected community-wide biogeochemical functions of intact coral- and degraded algae-dominated reef patches in the central Red Sea. Results from benthic chamber incubations revealed 87% increased gross productivity and a shift from net calcification to dissolution in algae-dominated communities after nutrient enrichment, but the same processes were unaffected by nutrients in neighboring coral communities. Both community types changed from net dissolved organic nitrogen sinks to sources, but the increase in net release was 56% higher in algae-dominated communities. Nutrient pollution may, thus, amplify the effects of community shifts on key ecosystem services of coral reefs, possibly leading to a loss of structurally complex habitats with carbonate dissolution and altered nutrient recycling.
The coral holobiont highlights the dependence of cnidarian animal hosts on their associated microbes
2021, Pogoreutz, Claudia, Voolstra, Christian R., Rädecker, Nils, Weis, Virginia, Cárdenas, Anny, Raina, Jean-Baptiste
Coral reefs face unprecedented threats from anthropogenic environmental change. Climate change, pollution, and overfishing are affecting symbiotic interactions in the coral holobiont, which constitute the structural and functional foundation of reef ecosystems, eventually leading to the breakdown of the symbiosis and/or the onset of disease(s). The resulting dysbiosis of species relationships within the coral holobiont causes coral mortality at a global scale, accompanied by unprecedented loss of coral reef cover. In this chapter, we discuss the diversity of microbes (Symbiodiniaceae, bacteria, archaea, protists, fungi) associated with the coral host and what is known of their respective contribution to holobiont functioning. We highlight how the coral–dinoflagellate symbiosis forms the “engine” of the coral holobiont machinery, and we discuss the complexity of interactions that have shaped the ecological success of corals. We conclude that the coral holobiont is a prime example of how microbial associates shape the biology of their animal hosts and enable them to inhabit and even thrive in otherwise inhospitable environments. Given the current global decline of coral reef ecosystems, it is imperative to better understand the mechanisms governing coral holobiont function and health in order to develop strategies for mitigating the consequences of climate change and local anthropogenic stressors.