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Despite nutrient-depleted conditions, coral reef waters harbor abundant and diverse microbes; as major agents of microbial mortality, viruses are likely to influence microbial processes in these ecosystems. However, little is known about marine viruses in these rapidly changing ecosystems. Here we examined spatial and short-term temporal variability in marine viral abundance (VA) and viral lytic activity across various reef habitats surrounding Moorea Island (French Polynesia) in the South Pacific. Water samples were collected along four regional cross-reef transects and during a time-series in Opunohu Bay. Results revealed high VA (range: 5.6 x 10(6)-3.6 x 10(7) viruses ml(-1)) and lytic viral production (range: 1.5 x 10(9)-9.2 x 10(10) viruses l(-1) d(-1)). Flow cytometry revealed that viral assemblages were composed of three subsets that each displayed distinct spatiotemporal relationships with nutrient concentrations and autotrophic and heterotrophic microbial abundances. The results highlight dynamic shifts in viral community structure and imply that each of these three subsets is ecologically important and likely to infect distinct microbial hosts in reef waters. Based on viral-reduction approach, we estimate that lytic viruses were responsible for the removal of ca. 24-367% of bacterial standing stock d(-1) and the release of ca. 1.0- 62 mu g of organic carbon l(-1) d(-1) in reef waters. Overall, this work demonstrates the highly dynamic distribution of viruses and their critical roles in controlling microbial mortality and nutrient cycling in coral reef water ecosystems.


Originally published in Frontiers in Microbiology.

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