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Parasite-host ecology: the limited impacts of an intimate enemy on host microbiomes.
Clements CS Burns AS, Stewart FJ, Hay ME. 2020. Animal Microbiome. In press.
Background: Impacts of biotic stressors, such as consumers, on coral microbiomes have gained attention as corals decline worldwide. Corallivore feeding can alter coral microbiomes in ways that contribute to dysbiosis, but feeding strategies are diverse – complicating generalizations about the nature of consumer impacts on coral microbiomes.
Results: In field experiments, feeding by Coralliophila violacea, a parasitic snail that suppresses coral growth, altered the microbiome of its host, Porites cylindrica, but these impacts were spatially constrained. Alterations in microbial community composition and variability were largely restricted to snail feeding scars; basal or distal areas ~1.5 cm or 6-8 cm away, respectively, were largely unaltered. Feeding scars were enriched in taxa common to stressed corals (e.g. Flavobacteriaceae, Rhodobacteraceae) and depauperate in putative beneficial symbionts (e.g. Endozoicomonadaceae) compared to locations that lacked feeding.
Conclusions: Previous studies that assessed consumer impacts on coral microbiomes suggested that feeding disrupts microbial communities, potentially leading to dysbiosis, but those studies involved mobile corallivores that move across and among numerous individual hosts. Sedentary parasites like C. violacea that spend long intervals with individual hosts and are dependent on hosts for food and shelter may minimize damage to host microbiomes to assure continued host health and thus exploitation. More mobile consumers that forage across numerous hosts should not experience these constraints. Thus, stability or disruption of microbiomes on attacked corals may vary based on the foraging strategy of coral consumers.