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Environmental Microbiology Reports

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Marine sponges harbour diverse communities of microbes. Mechanisms used to establish microbial symbioses in sponges are poorly understood, and the relative contributions of horizontal and vertical transmission are unknown for most species. We examined microbial communities in adults and larvae of carotenoid-rich Clathria prolifera and Halichondria bowerbanki from the mid-Atlantic region of the eastern United States. We sequenced microbiomes from larvae and their mothers and seawater (16S rRNA gene sequencing), and compared microbial community characteristics between species and ambient seawater. The microbial communities in sponges were significantly different than those found in seawater, and each species harboured a distinctive microbiome. Larval microbiomes exhibited significantly lower richness compared with adults, with both sponges appearing to transfer to larvae a particular subset of the adult microbiome. We also surveyed culturable bacteria isolated from larvae of both species. Due to conspicuous coloration of adults and larvae, we focused on pigmented heterotrophic bacteria. We found that the densities of bacteria, in terms of colony-forming units and pigmented heterotrophic bacteria, were higher in larvae than in seawater. We identified a common mode of transmission (vertical and horizontal) of microbes in both sponges that might differ between species.

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