The Wonder of Coral Microbiomes

From the reef itself to the inner workings of each individual coral species, microbiomes are all around our coral ecosystems.

Microbes can be found in more than just the human body, they exist in diverse natural ecosystems too. Our coral reefs are a complex ecosystem built by millions of corals, but inside every coral is an even smaller, equally diverse ecosystem, that is the coral microbiome. Just like how our microbiome provides the function to all aspects of our health, a coral’s microbiome does too. Filled with a diverse community made up of algae, bacteria, fungi, and even parasites, the microbial cells living inside the coral have a different function from those on the outer layers of coral.

Keeping reefs happy

Just like our bodies, a coral’s microbiome can be impacted by change and stress such as rising ocean temperatures and poor water quality. Similarly, their own microbiome has to be diverse too with all areas playing their part. A healthy, well-balanced coral microbiome helps to create a healthy and happy reef.

What can be done to support coral microbiomes?

Just like how probiotics can complement a healthy diet and lifestyle to support our microbiome, the same can be done for our reefs. This thinking is currently being researched as part of a world-first project, the Life-Space Reef Probiotics Project. The project aims to discover which bacteria found in a coral’s microbiome can provide optimal health results for a range of reef-building corals, and the best methods to deliver probiotics to corals at all life stages.

As part of this project, over 850 bacteria have already been screened as potential probiotics that have beneficial health traits for our Great Barrier Reef corals, with experiments continuing. Further success could help increase the ability and scale of growing coral in the lab, which can then be settled onto the reefs across Australia and hopefully the world.

Credit: AIMS

Check out what the Life-Space Reef Probiotics Project is achieving.

Learn about the project

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