Alternate Title

Review: Formation and Metabolic Function of Coral Rubble Biofilms in the Reef Ecosystem

Document Type



When coral dies, their calcareous skeletons constitute coral rubble in conjunction with the cementing activity of coralline algae and bacteria, creating a secondary reef structure which takes from years to decades to form. Healthy coral reefs differ from coral—rubble dominated reefs in microbial taxonomic composition and metabolic functional roles. The metabolisms of healthy reefs are dominated by autotrophic pathways, where carbon and nitrogen fixation dominate, while the metabolism of rubble—dominated reefs predominate in degradation of organic matter. Nitrogen fixation is 3 orders of magnitude lower in rubble—dominated reefs than in healthy reefs. Coral—rubble harbors a vast diversity of microbes that can precipitate carbonate through coupling several metabolic processes including photosynthesis, ureolysis, ammonification, denitrification, sulfate reduction, methane oxidation, and anaerobic sulfide oxidation. All these metabolic processes were found in rubble microbial communities, but ammonification and sulfate reduction were most prevalent. Anthropogenic and non—anthropogenic perturbations of healthy coral reefs in the past decades have led to the prevalence of rubble—dominated reefs in areas of the Caribbean where the ecological and functional shifts of the community still need further study.

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