Successive shifts in the microbial community of the surface mucus layer and tissues of the coralAcropora muricataunder thermal stress

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The coral mucus may harbor commensal bacteria that inhibit growth of pathogens. Therefore, there is a need to understand the dynamics of bacterial communities between the coral mucus and tissues. Nubbins of Acropora muricata were subjected to increasing water temperatures of 26°C–33°C, to simultaneously explore the bacterial diversity in coral mucus and tissues by 16S rRNA gene amplicon sequencing. Photochemical efficiency of symbiotic dinoflagellates within the corals declined above 31°C. Both the mucus and tissues of healthy A. muricata were dominated by γ-Proteobacteria, but under thermal stress there was a shift towards bacteria from the Verrucomicrobiaceae and α-Proteobacteria. Members of Cyanobacteria, Flavobacteria and Sphingobacteria also become more prominent at higher temperatures. The relative abundance of Vibrio spp. in the coral mucus increased at 29°C, but at 31°C, there was a drop in the relative abundance of Vibrio spp. in the mucus, with a reciprocal increase in the tissues. On the other hand, during bleaching, the relative abundance of Endozoicomonas spp. decreased in the tissues with a reciprocal increase in the mucus. This is the first systematic experiment that shows the potential for a bacterial community shift between the coral surface mucus and tissues in a thermally stressed coral.

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