On a Reef Far, Far Away Anthropogenic Impacts Following Extreme Storms Affect Sponge Health and Bacterial Communities Academic Article uri icon


  • Terrestrial runoff can negatively impact marine ecosystems through stressors including excess nutrients, freshwater, sediments, and contaminants. Severe storms, which are increasing with global climate change, generate massive inputs of runoff over short timescales (hours to days); such runoff impacted offshore reefs in the northwest Gulf of Mexico (NW GoM) following severe storms in 2016 and 2017. Several weeks after coastal flooding from these events, NW GoM reef corals, sponges, and other benthic invertebrates 185 km offshore experienced mortality (2016 only) and/or sub-lethal stress (both years). To assess the impact of storm-derived runoff on reef filter feeders, we characterized the bacterial communities of two sponges, Agelas clathrodes and Xestospongia muta, from offshore reefs during periods of sub-lethal stress and no stress over a three-year period (20162018). Sponge-associated and seawater-associated bacterial communities were altered during both flood years. Additionally, we found evidence of wastewater contamination (based on 16S rRNA gene libraries and quantitative PCR) in offshore sponge samples, but not in seawater samples, following these flood years. Signs of wastewater contamination were absent during the no-flood year. We show that flood events from severe storms have the capacity to reach offshore reef ecosystems and impact resident benthic organisms. Such impacts are most readily detected if baseline data on organismal physiology and associated microbiome composition are available. This highlights the need for molecular and microbial time series of benthic organisms in near- and offshore reef ecosystems, and the continued mitigation of stormwater runoff and climate change impacts.

published proceedings


altmetric score

  • 132.2

author list (cited authors)

  • Shore, A., Sims, J. A., Grimes, M., Howe-Kerr, L. I., Grupstra, C., Doyle, S. M., ... Correa, A.

citation count

  • 3

complete list of authors

  • Shore, Amanda||Sims, Jordan A||Grimes, Michael||Howe-Kerr, Lauren I||Grupstra, Carsten GB||Doyle, Shawn M||Stadler, Lauren||Sylvan, Jason B||Shamberger, Kathryn EF||Davies, Sarah W||Santiago-Vazquez, Lory Z||Correa, Adrienne MS

publication date

  • January 2021