MVP - Moorea Virus Project

The Moorea Virus Project (MVP) research aims to test the central hypothesis that viral infection of corals reduces reef health by directly impacting colony physiology and altering C and N release from coral, resulting in ecological feedback loops on the reef. Lab and field experiments have been and continue to be conducted at the Moorea Coral Reef LTER to characterize the spatiotemporal dynamics of viruses within three dominant reef-building coral species (Acropora hyacinthus, Pocillopora verrucosa, and Porites lobata) that differ in their susceptibility to abiotic stress. A novel viral infection and induction approach will be coupled with stable isotopic pulse-chase experiments to quantify and track carbon and nitrogen flux out of coral holobionts (host and microbial symbionts) and into dissolved and particulate pools. In these experiments, virus, bacteria, and Symbiodinium abundance, diversity, and function will be measured simultaneously with the health and activity of the host.

Coral reefs, found in nutrient-poor shallow waters, are biodiversity and productivity hotspots that provide substantial ecological and societal benefits. Corals energetically subsidize these oligotrophic ecosystems by releasing significant amounts of mucus (an organic carbon and nitrogen-rich matrix) into the surrounding seawater. Viral production in reef waters can be a significant portion of total reef carbon cycling, accounting for ~10% of gross benthic carbon fixation in reef ecosystems. Viruses are also ~10 times more abundant on coral surfaces than in the water column meaning that viral infection experienced by corals during stress likely results is an increase in carbon and perhaps nitrogen flux to the water column. Thus phages and eukaryotic viruses may be responsible for shifting reef health and function directly via coral and symbiont infection and by altering biogeochemical cycling in host colonies and the adjacent reef system. The main goal of this project is to experimentally interrogate and then model the links among viral infections, declines in coral and reef health, and associated shifts in biogeochemical cycling in reef ecosystems.


For questions about MVP, contact PhD students Adriana Messyasz and Emily Schmeltzer.