Coral-Associated Microbiology

Coral reefs are located in some of the world’s most oligotrophic waters, yet corals are highly productive organisms and excellent cyclers of nutrients.  Much of the success of corals is attributed to the symbiosis between the coral and symbiotic dinoflagellates, known as zooxanthellae.  The photosynthetic zooxanthellae provide a significant supply of carbon and nutrients to the coral, and the breakdown of this symbiosis, commonly referred to as bleaching, can lead to coral death.

In fact, corals are actually made up of a variety of disparate groups of organisms that includes the cnidarian coral host, symbiotic dinoflagellates, bacteria and archaea, and endolithic algae and fungi.  These organisms coexist in a complex gradient of associations and symbioses to create the coral holobiont, though very little is known about the nature of associations between the coral host and other microbial partners outside of the zooxanthellae.

With support from the National Science Foundation, members of the Rappé lab have studied associations between bacteria, archaea and corals from a wide variety of perspectives and scales, including the onset of stable coral-microbial associations during the  coral developmental cycle, the biogeography of coral-associated microbial communities, and the ecology of microbial communities associated with health-compromised corals.  Please consult our publication list to learn about some of our work.