Bioerosion by euendoliths decreases in phosphate-enriched skeletons of living corals
Abstract. While the role of microboring organisms, or euendoliths, is relatively well known in dead coral skeletons, their function in live corals remains poorly understood. They are suggested to behave like ectosymbionts or parasites, impacting their host's health. However, the species composition of microboring communities, their abundance and dynamics in live corals under various environmental conditions have never been explored. Here, the effect of phosphate enrichment on boring microorganisms in live corals was tested for the first time. Stylophora pistillata nubbins were exposed to 3 different treatments (phosphate concentrations of 0, 0.5 and 2.5 μmol l−1) during 15 weeks. After 15 weeks of phosphate enrichment, petrographic thin sections were prepared for observation with light microscopy, and additional samples were examined with scanning electron microscopy (SEM). Euendoliths comprised mainly phototrophic Ostreobium sp. filaments. Rare filaments of heterotrophic fungi were also observed. Filaments were densely distributed in the central part of nubbins, and less abundant towards the apex. Unexpectedly, there was a visible reduction of filament abundance in the most recently calcified apical part of phosphate-enriched nubbins. The overall abundance of euendoliths significantly decreased, from 9.12 ± 1.09% of the skeletal surface area in unenriched corals, to 5.81 ± 0.77% and 5.27 ± 0.34% in 0.5 and 2.5 μmol l−1-phosphate enriched corals respectively. SEM observations confirmed this decrease. Recent studies have shown that phosphate enrichment increases coral skeletal growth and metabolic rates, while it decreases skeletal density and resilience to mechanical stress. We thus hypothesize that increased skeletal growth in the presence of phosphate enrichment occurred too fast for an effective expansion of euendolith growth. They could not keep up with coral growth, so they became diluted in the apex areas as nubbins grew with phosphate enrichment. Results from the present study suggest that coral skeletons of S. pistillata will not be further weakened by euendoliths under phosphate enrichment.