Spatial and seasonal variation in diversity and structure of microbial biofilms on marine plastics in Northern European waters

Plastic pollution is now recognised as a major threat to marine environments and marine biota. Recent research highlights that diverse microbial species are found to colonise plastic surfaces (the plastisphere) within marine waters. Here, we investigate how the structure and diversity of marine plastisphere microbial community vary with respect to season, location and plastic substrate type. We performed a 6-week exposure experiment with polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles in the North Sea (UK) as well as sea surface sampling of plastic polymers in Northern European waters. Scanning electron microscopy revealed diverse plastisphere communities comprising prokaryotic and eukaryotic microorganisms. Denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE) and sequencing analysis revealed that plastisphere microbial communities on PET fragments varied both with season and location and comprised of bacteria belonging to Bacteroidetes, Proteobacteria, Cyanobacteria and members of the eukaryotes Bacillariophyceae and Phaeophyceae. Polymers sampled from the sea surface mainly comprised polyethylene, polystyrene and polypropylene particles. Variation within plastisphere communities on different polymer types was observed, but communities were primarily dominated by Cyanobacteria. This research reveals that the composition of plastisphere microbial communities in marine waters varies with season, geographical location and plastic substrate type.

Oberbeckmann, Sonja, Loeder, Martin G. J., Gerdts, Gunnar, Osborn, A. Mark, FEMS MICROBIOLOGY ECOLOGY, Vol. 90 (2), pages 478-492, November 2014

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