Relative abundance of nitrogen cycling microbes in coral holobionts reflects environmental nitrate availability

Arjen Tilstra, Florian Roth, Yusuf C. El-Khaled, Claudia Pogoreutz, Nils Rädecker, Christian R. Voolstra, Christian Wild

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Recent research suggests that nitrogen (N) cycling microbes are important for coral holobiont functioning. In particular, coral holobionts may acquire bioavailable N via prokaryotic dinitrogen (N2) fixation or remove excess N via denitrification activity. However, our understanding of environmental drivers on these processes in hospite remains limited. Employing the strong seasonality of the central Red Sea, this study assessed the effects of environmental parameters on the proportional abundances of N cycling microbes associated with the hard corals Acropora hemprichii and Stylophora pistillata. Specifically, we quantified changes in the relative ratio between nirS and nifH gene copy numbers, as a proxy for seasonal shifts in denitrification and N2 fixation potential in corals, respectively. In addition, we assessed coral tissue-associated Symbiodiniaceae cell densities and monitored environmental parameters to provide a holobiont and environmental context, respectively. While ratios of nirS to nifH gene copy numbers varied between seasons, they revealed similar seasonal patterns in both coral species, with ratios closely following patterns in environmental nitrate availability. Symbiodiniaceae cell densities aligned with environmental nitrate availability, suggesting that the seasonal shifts in nirS to nifH gene abundance ratios were probably driven by nitrate availability in the coral holobiont. Thereby, our results suggest that N cycling in coral holobionts probably adjusts to environmental conditions by increasing and/or decreasing denitrification and N2 fixation potential according to environmental nitrate availability. Microbial N cycling may, thus, extenuate the effects of changes in environmental nitrate availability on coral holobionts to support the maintenance of the coral–Symbiodiniaceae symbiosis.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)201835
JournalRoyal Society Open Science
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2 2021

Bibliographical note

KAUST Repository Item: Exported on 2021-06-05
Acknowledgements: We thank KAUST CMOR staff and boat crews for their support with diving operations. We thank Nauras Daraghmeh for his support with re-analysing environmental parameter data.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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