Differential impacts of land-based sources of pollution on the microbiota of southeast Florida coral reefs

Christopher M Staley, Thomas Kaiser, Maribeth L. Gidley, Ian C. Enochs, Paul R. Jones, Kelly D. Goodwin, Christopher D. Sinigalliano, Michael J Sadowsky, Chanlan Chun

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


Coral reefs are dynamic ecosystems known for decades to be endangered due, in large part, to anthropogenic impacts from land-based sources of pollution (LBSP). In this study, we utilized an Illumina-based next-generation sequencing approach to characterize prokaryotic and fungal communities from samples collected off the southeast coast of Florida. Water samples from coastal inlet discharges, oceanic outfalls of municipal wastewater treatment plants, treated wastewater effluent before discharge, open ocean samples, and coral tissue samples (mucus and polyps) were characterized to determine the relationships between microbial communities in these matrices and those in reef water and coral tissues. Significant differences in microbial communities were noted among all sample types but varied between sampling areas. Contamination from outfalls was found to be the greatest potential source of LBSP influencing native microbial community structure among all reef samples, although pollution from inlets was also noted. Notably, reef water and coral tissue communities were found to be more greatly impacted by LBSP at southern reefs, which also experienced the most degradation during the course of the study. The results of this study provide new insights into how microbial communities from LBSP can impact coral reefs in southeast Florida and suggest that wastewater outfalls may have a greater influence on the microbial diversity and structure of these reef communities than do contaminants carried in runoff, although the influences of runoff and coastal inlet discharge on coral reefs are still substantial.IMPORTANCE Coral reefs are known to be endangered due to sewage discharge and to runoff of nutrients, pesticides, and other substances associated with anthropogenic activity. Here, we used next-generation sequencing to characterize the microbial communities of potential contaminant sources in order to determine how environmental discharges of microbiota and their genetic material may influence the microbiomes of coral reef communities and coastal receiving waters. Runoff delivered through inlet discharges impacted coral microbial communities, but impacts from oceanic outfalls carrying treated wastewater were greater. Geographic differences in the degree of impact suggest that coral microbiomes may be influenced by the microbiological quality of treated wastewater.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere03378-16
Pages (from-to)AEM.03378-16
JournalApplied and Environmental Microbiology
Issue number10
StatePublished - May 1 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 American Society for Microbiology.


  • Coral
  • Land-based sources of pollution
  • Microbial ecology
  • Microbial source tracking
  • Next-generation sequencing

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.


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