W&L’s Reigel Published in the Marine Ecology Progress Series Journal First-year biology professor co-authored a paper titled “Microbiome environmental shifts differ between two co-occurring octocoral hosts.”
Alicia Reigel, assistant professor of biology at Washington and Lee University, recently co-authored a paper titled “Microbiome environmental shifts differ between two co-occurring octocoral hosts” that appeared in the Marine Ecology Progress Series Journal produced by the Inter-Research Science Publisher.
Reigel co-authored the paper with Michael Hellberg of Louisiana State University (LSU), her first published work since joining the W&L faculty this fall.
While pursuing her Ph.D. at LSU, Reigel worked with Hellberg to conduct research on Caribbean-based corals to determine if the complex suite of microbial symbionts could help them withstand rapidly emerging or geographically varying stresses without requiring a genetic change to the coral itself. They studied coral in Puerto Rico and Bonaire and concluded that the level of intra-species microbiome variation mirrored the known geographic differentiation of their hosts. While potentially adaptive bacteria may shuffle in response to environmental changes, their findings suggest that most changes to microbiomes are likely constrained by host genetics.
“We sampled more than 300 soft corals, making our study the largest examination of the soft coral microbiome to date,” said Reigel. “This gives us immense power to explore the impacts of host genetics, geography and stress on the composition of the coral microbiome. Ultimately, we found that host genetics is the key factor in determining how flexible the microbiome is across environmental conditions. Our research is a big step towards understanding the dynamic relationship between corals and their microbes and how these microbes may help their hosts survive rapid changes to our coral reef habitats.”
Reigel came to W&L from Appalachian State University, where she performed postdoctoral research in biology since 2020. In addition to her Ph.D. from LSU, she holds a B.S. from the University of Minnesota and a M.S. from Georgia Southern University.
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