Coral reefs are undergoing degradation due to overexploitation, pollution, and climate change. Management and restoration efforts require that we gain a better understanding of the complex interactions between corals, their microbiomes, and their environment. For this purpose, Varadero Reef near Cartagena, Colombia, serves as an informative study system located at the entrance of the Bay of Cartagena adjacent to the Canal del Dique, which carries turbid and polluted water into the bay. Varadero’s survival under poor environmental conditions makes it a great study site for investigating the relationship between the microbiome and coral resistance to environmental stressors. To determine whether the microbiomes of Varadero corals differ from those in less impacted sites, we conducted a reciprocal transplant experiment by relocating coral fragments from Varadero as well as a geographically proximate reef that is less affected by plume dynamics (Rosario) across a gradient of turbidity (low, medium, and high). After 6 months of acclimatization, transplanted corals developed site-specific microbiomes that differed significantly from pre-transplant microbiomes, and corals transplanted to the highly impacted site from both Varadero and Rosario site saw higher mortality and an increase in overall microbial diversity. In combination with physiology and survivorship outcomes pointing to a limit in the corals’ photoacclimative capacity, our results indicate that, rather than surviving, Varadero Reef is experiencing a slow decline, and its corals are likely on the brink of dysbiosis. With continued anthropogenic interference in marine environments, sites such as Varadero will become increasingly common, and it is imperative that we understand how corals and their microbial symbionts are changing in response to these new environmental conditions.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Aquatic Science