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Published in: Journal of the International Society for Microbial Ecology, vol. 6, issue 4, 2012.


In this study, we examine microbial communities of early developmental stages of the coral Porites astreoides by sequence analysis of cloned 16S rRNA genes, terminal restriction fragment length polymorphism (TRFLP), and fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) imaging. Bacteria are associated with the ectoderm layer in newly released planula larvae, in 4-day-old planulae, and on the newly forming mesenteries surrounding developing septa in juvenile polyps after settlement. Roseobacter clade-associated (RCA) bacteria and Marinobacter sp. are consistently detected in specimens of P. astreoides spanning three early developmental stages, two locations in the Caribbean and 3 years of collection. Multi-response permutation procedures analysis on the TRFLP results do not support significant variation in the bacterial communities associated with P. astreoides larvae across collection location, collection year or developmental stage. The results are the first evidence of vertical transmission (from parent to offspring) of bacteria in corals. The results also show that at least two groups of bacterial taxa, the RCA bacteria and Marinobacter, are consistently associated with juvenile P. astreoides against a complex background of microbial associations, indicating that some components of the microbial community are long-term associates of the corals and may impact host health and survival.