Benthic cyanobacterial mats are increasingly reported to cover major coral reef areas. Although suggestions have been made that cyanobacterial mats impair coral reef health in multiple ways, information is lacking regarding the distribution, morphotypical variation and bacterial species composition of these microbial mats. As such, this study aimed to (1) Reveal the bacterial community diversity and composition of different mat morphotypes, (2) Identify the most abundant community members and closely related organisms, (3) Assess to what extent, morphotype, colonized substrate (coral or abiotic substrate), depth, and site were significant predictors of bacterial composition. Data were collected on reefs surrounding the island of Koh Tao (Gulf of Thailand). A total of 201 mats from 16 different locations around the island were classified into eight distinct morphotypes. Of these, the bacterial communities of 44 mats, representing colour groups from multiple sites, were characterized using 16S rRNA gene high-throughput sequencing. Our data revealed that Proteobacteria, Cyanobacteria, Bacteriodetes and Planctomycetes were the four most abundant phyla and occurred in all samples. Abundant cyanobacterial zero-radius operational taxonomic units (ZOTUs) were closely related to prokaryotic sequences found in previous studies of coastal mats (98–100%) and were assigned to genera in the order Oscillatoriales, e.g. Hormoscilla, Okeania, and Oscillatoria. Abundant proteobacterial ZOTUs were assigned to orders in the classes Alpha- and Gammaproteobacteria, e.g. Rhodobacterales, Rhizobiales and Alteromonadales. Abundant Bacteriodetes ZOTUs were mainly assigned to the class Bacteroidia and order Cytophagales. Our results showed that mats consist of a diverse and variable bacterial consortium, with mat colour (morphotype), substrate type and geographic location only explaining a small part of the total variation in composition.
Coral reefs

Released under the CC-BY 4.0 ("Attribution 4.0 International") License

Staff publications

Stuij, T., Cleary, Daniel F. R., Gomes, Newton C. M., Mehrotra, Rahul, Visser, Petra M., Speksnijder, A., & Hoeksema, B. (2022). High diversity of benthic cyanobacterial mats on coral reefs of Koh Tao, Gulf of Thailand. Coral reefs, 42(1), 77–91. doi:10.1007/s00338-022-02304-0