Differences in intertidal microbial assemblages on urban structures and natural rocky reef

Tan, E.L.Y., Mayer-Pinto, M., Johnston, E.L. and Dafforn, K.A. (2015) Differences in intertidal microbial assemblages on urban structures and natural rocky reef. Frontiers in Microbiology. 6: 1276


Global seascapes are increasingly modified to support high levels of human activity in the coastal zone. Modifications include the addition of defense structures and boating infrastructure, such as seawalls and marinas that replace natural habitats. Artificial structures support different macrofaunal communities to those found on natural rocky shores; however, little is known about differences in microbial community structure or function in urban seascapes. Understanding how artificial constructions in marine environments influence microbial communities is important as these assemblages contribute to many basic ecological processes. In this study, the bacterial communities of intertidal biofilms were compared between artificial structures (seawalls) and natural habitats (rocky shores) within Sydney Harbour. Plots were cleared on each type of habitat at eight locations. After 3 weeks the newly formed biofilm was sampled and the 16S rRNA gene sequenced using the Illumina Miseq platform. To account for differences in orientation and substrate material between seawalls and rocky shores that might have influenced our survey, we also deployed recruitment blocks next to the habitats at all locations for 3 weeks and then sampled and sequenced their microbial communities. Intertidal bacterial community structure sampled from plots differed between seawalls and rocky shores, but when substrate material, age and orientation were kept constant (with recruitment blocks) then bacterial communities were similar in composition and structure among habitats. This suggests that changes in bacterial communities on seawalls are not related to environmental differences between locations, but may be related to other intrinsic factors that differ between the habitats such as orientation, complexity, or predation. This is one of the first comparisons of intertidal microbial communities on natural and artificial surfaces and illustrates substantial ecological differences with potential consequences for biofilm function and the recruitment of macrofauna.

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