Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Master of Science (M.S.)

Degree Granting Department

Marine Science

Major Professor

Christina Kellogg, Ph.D.

Co-Major Professor

Mya Breitbart, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Pamela Hallock Muller, Ph.D.


cold-water corals, Anthothela, deep sea, octocoral, submarine canyons


Cold-water corals, similar to tropical corals, contain a diverse and complex microbial landscape. Comprised of vital microscopic organisms (i.e. bacteria, viruses, archaea), the coral microbiome is a driving factor in the proliferation and survival of the coral host. Bacteria provide essential biological functions within coral holobionts, facilitating increased nutrient utilization and production of antimicrobial compounds. To date, few cold-water octocoral species have been analyzed to explore the diversity and abundance of their microbial associates. For this study, 23 samples of the family Anthothelidae were collected from Norfolk (n = 12) and Baltimore Canyons (n = 11) from the western Atlantic in August 2012 and May 2013. Genetic testing found that these samples comprised two Anthothela species (Anthothela grandiflora and Anthothela sp.) and a new genus. DNA was extracted and sequenced with primers targeting the V4-V5 variable region of the 16S rRNA gene using 454 pyrosequencing with GS FLX Titanium chemistry.

Results demonstrated that the host genus was the primary driver of bacterial composition. The new coral genus, dominated by Alteromonadales and Pirellulales, had much higher species richness and a distinct bacterial community compared to Anthothela samples. Anthothela species had very similar bacterial communities, dominated by Oceanospirillales and Spirochaetes. Core bacterial diversity present across 90% of the Anthothela samples revealed genus-level conservation. This core included unclassified Oceanospirillales, Kiloniellales, Campylobacterales, and Spirochaeta; the functional abilities of which contribute to a nearly complete nitrogen cycle. Dominant bacterial members of the new coral genus also had functional capabilities in nitrogen cycling. Overall, many of the bacterial associates identified in this study have the potential to contribute to the acquisition and cycling of nutrients within the coral holobiont.