Dimethylsulfoniopropionate in corals and its interrelations with bacterial assemblages in coral surface mucus

P. R. Frade, V. Schwaninger, B. Glasl, E. Sintes, R. W. Hill, R. Simo, G. J. Herndl

Environmental context Corals produce copious amounts of dimethylsulfoniopropionate (DMSP), a sulfur compound implicated in climate regulation. We studied DMSP concentrations inside corals and unveiled the linkage between DMSP availability and the abundance of DMSP-degrading bacterial groups inhabiting the corals' surface. Our findings suggest that DMSP mediates the interplay between corals and microbes, highlighting the importance of sulfur compounds for microbial processes in corals and for the resilience of coral reef ecosystems.

Abstract Corals produce copious amounts of dimethylsulfoniopropionate (DMSP), a sulfur compound thought to play a role in structuring coral-associated bacterial communities. We tested the hypothesis that a linkage exists between DMSP availability in coral tissues and the community dynamics of bacteria in coral surface mucus. We determined DMSP concentrations in three coral species (Meandrina meandrites, Porites astreoides and Siderastrea siderea) at two sampling depths (5 and 25m) and times of day (dawn and noon) at Curacao, Southern Caribbean. DMSP concentration (4-409nmolcm(-2) coral surface) varied with host species-specific traits such as Symbiodinium cell abundance, but not with depth or time of sampling. Exposure of corals to air caused a doubling of their DMSP concentration. The phylogenetic affiliation of mucus-associated bacteria was examined by clone libraries targeting three main subclades of the bacterial DMSP demethylase gene (dmdA). dmdA gene abundance was determined by quantitative Polymerase Chain Reaction (qPCR) against a reference housekeeping gene (recA). Overall, a higher availability of DMSP corresponded to a lower relative abundance of the dmdA gene, but this pattern was not uniform across all host species or bacterial dmdA subclades, suggesting the existence of distinct DMSP microbial niches or varying dmdA DMSP affinities. This is the first study quantifying dmdA gene abundance in corals and linking related changes in the community dynamics of DMSP-degrading bacteria to DMSP availability. Our study suggests that DMSP mediates the regulation of microbes by the coral host and highlights the significance of sulfur compounds for microbial processes in coral reefs.

Functional and Evolutionary Ecology
External organisation(s)
Michigan State University, ICM-CSIC, Institut de Ciències del Mar, Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research, Caribbean Research and Management of Biodiversity (CARMABI) Foundation, Leopold-Franzens-Universität Innsbruck
Environmental Chemistry
No. of pages
Publication date
Peer reviewed
Austrian Fields of Science 2012
Marine biology
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