Reef Location and Client Diversity Influence the Skin Microbiome of the Caribbean Cleaner Goby Elacatinus evelynae

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



Microbial Ecology




Cleaner fish; Coral reefs; Elacatinus evelynae; Microbial diversity; Skin microbiota


Fish-associated microorganisms are known to be affected by the environment and other external factors, such as microbial transfer between interacting partners. One of the most iconic mutualistic interactions on coral reefs is the cleaning interactions between cleaner fishes and their clients, during which direct physical contact occurs. Here, we characterized the skin bacteria of the Caribbean cleaner sharknose goby, Elacatinus evelynae, in four coral reefs of the US Virgin Islands using sequencing of the V4 region of the 16S rRNA gene. We specifically tested the relationship between gobies’ level of interaction with clients and skin microbiota diversity and composition. Our results showed differences in microbial alpha- and beta-diversity in the skin of gobies from different reef habitats and high inter-individual variation in microbiota diversity and structure. Overall, the results showed that fish-to-fish direct contact and specifically, access to a diverse clientele, influences the bacterial diversity and structure of cleaner gobies’ skin. Because of their frequent contact with clients, and therefore, high potential for microbial exchange, cleaner fish may serve as models in future studies aiming to understand the role of social microbial transfer in reef fish communities.


Biostatistics and Bioinformatics