Marine microbial communities of the Great Barrier Reef lagoon are influenced by riverine floodwaters and seasonal weather events

Florent E. Angly, Candice Heath, Thomas C. Morgan, Hemerson Tonin, Virginia Rich, Britta Schaffelke, David G. Bourne, Gene W. Tyson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


The role of microorganisms in maintaining coral reef health is increasingly recog- nized. Riverine floodwater containing herbicides and excess nutrients from fertilizers compromises water quality in the inshore Great Barrier Reef (GBR), with unknown consequences for planktonic marine microbial communities and thus coral reefs. In this baseline study, inshore GBR microbial communities were monitored along a 124 km long transect between 2011 and 2013 using 16S rRNA gene amplicon sequenc- ing. Members of the bacterial orders Rickettsiales (e.g., Pelagibacteraceae) and Syne- chococcales (e.g., Prochlorococcus), and of the archaeal class Marine Group II were prevalent in all samples, exhibiting a clear seasonal dynamics. Microbial communities near the Tully river mouth included a mixture of taxa from offshore marine sites and from the river system. The environmental parameters collected could be summarized into four groups, represented by salinity, rainfall, temperature and water quality, that drove the composition of microbial communities. During the wet season, lower salin- ity and a lower water quality index resulting from higher river discharge corresponded to increases in riverine taxa at sites near the river mouth. Particularly large, transient changes in microbial community structure were seen during the extreme wet season 2010-11, and may be partially attributed to the effects of wind and waves, which re- suspend sediments and homogenize the water column in shallow near-shore regions. This work shows that anthropogenic floodwaters and other environmental parameters work in conjunction to drive the spatial distribution of microorganisms in the GBR lagoon, as well as their seasonal and daily dynamics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere1511
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2016


  • Amplicon sequencing
  • Anthropogenic impacts
  • Coral reefs
  • Floodwaters
  • Microbiology
  • Monitoring
  • Seasonality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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