Bacteria are not the primary cause of bleaching in the Mediterranean coral Oculina patagonica

T. D. Ainsworth, M. Fine, G. Roff, O. Hoegh-Guldberg

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64 Scopus citations


Coral bleaching occurs when the endosymbiosis between corals and their symbionts disintegrates during stress. Mass coral bleaching events have increased over the past 20 years and are directly correlated with periods of warm sea temperatures. However, some hypotheses have suggested that reef-building corals bleach due to infection by bacterial pathogens. The Bacterial Bleaching hypothesis is based on laboratory studies of the Mediterranean invading coral, Oculina patagonica, and has further generated conclusions such as the coral probiotic hypothesis and coral hologenome theory of evolution. We aimed to investigate the natural microbial ecology of O. patagonica during the annual bleaching using fluorescence in situ hybridization to map bacterial populations within the coral tissue layers, and found that the coral bleaches on the temperate rocky reefs of the Israeli coastline without the presence of Vibrio shiloi or bacterial penetration of its tissue layers. Bacterial communities were found associated with the endolithic layer of bleached coral regions, and a community dominance shift from an apparent cyanobacterial-dominated endolithic layer to an algal-dominated layer was found in bleached coral samples. While bacterial communities certainly play important roles in coral stasis and health, we suggest environmental stressors, such as those documented with reef-building corals, are the primary triggers leading to bleaching of O. patagonica and suggest that bacterial involvement in patterns of bleaching is that of opportunistic colonization.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)67-73
Number of pages7
JournalISME Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2008
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Professor Eugene Rosenberg for support, assistance and guidance throughout all phases of this research and manuscript preparation. We also thank Professor Yossi Loya and Dr Esti Kramasky-Winter for assistance during the histopathology analysis, and Ms Dorothea Burgess for conceptual support. We also thank the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies ( and The GEF Coral Reef Targeted Research Program ( for supporting this research project.


  • Bacteria
  • Coral bleaching
  • Oculina patagonica
  • Vibrio shiloi


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