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Research article2021Peer reviewedOpen access

Cross-Sectional Variations in Structure and Function of Coral Reef Microbiome With Local Anthropogenic Impacts on the Kenyan Coast of the Indian Ocean

Wambua, Sammy; Gourle, Hadrien; de Villiers, Etienne P.; Karlsson-Lindsjo, Oskar; Wambiji, Nina; Macdonald, Angus; Bongcam-Rudloff, Erik; de Villiers, Santie


Coral reefs face an increased number of environmental threats from anthropomorphic climate change and pollution from agriculture, industries and sewage. Because environmental changes lead to their compositional and functional shifts, coral reef microbial communities can serve as indicators of ecosystem impacts through development of rapid and inexpensive molecular monitoring tools. Little is known about coral reef microbial communities of the Western Indian Ocean (WIO). We compared taxonomic and functional diversity of microbial communities inhabiting near-coral seawater and sediments from Kenyan reefs exposed to varying impacts of human activities. Over 19,000 species (bacterial, viral and archaeal combined) and 4,500 clusters of orthologous groups of proteins (COGs) were annotated. The coral reefs showed variations in the relative abundances of ecologically significant taxa, especially copiotrophic bacteria and coliphages, corresponding to the magnitude of the neighboring human impacts in the respective sites. Furthermore, the near-coral seawater and sediment metagenomes had an overrepresentation of COGs for functions related to adaptation to diverse environments. Malindi and Mombasa marine parks, the coral reef sites closest to densely populated settlements were significantly enriched with genes for functions suggestive of mitigation of environment perturbations including the capacity to reduce intracellular levels of environmental contaminants and repair of DNA damage. Our study is the first metagenomic assessment of WIO coral reef microbial diversity which provides a much-needed baseline for the region, and points to a potential area for future research toward establishing indicators of environmental perturbations.


coral reef microbiota; microbiome; COGs; human impacts; environmental stressors

Published in

Frontiers in Microbiology
2021, Volume: 12, article number: 673128