Elucidating the spatial structure of host-associated microbial communities is essential for understanding taxon-taxon interactions within the microbiota and between microbiota and host. Macroalgae are colonized by complex microbial communities, suggesting intimate symbioses that likely play key roles in both macroalgal and bacterial biology, yet little is known about the spatial organization of microbes associated with macroalgae. Canopy-forming kelp are ecologically significant, fixing teragrams of carbon per year in coastal kelp forest ecosystems. We characterized the micron-scale spatial organization of bacterial communities on blades of the kelp
We show that kelp blades host a dense microbial biofilm composed of disparate microbial taxa in close contact with one another. The biofilm is spatially differentiated, with clustered cells of the dominant symbiont
Imaging revealed close association, at micrometer scales, of different microbial taxa with one another and with the host. This spatial organization creates the conditions necessary for metabolic exchange among microbes and between host and microbiota, such as provisioning of organic carbon to the microbiota and impacts of microbial nitrogen metabolisms on host kelp. The biofilm coating the surface of the kelp blade is well-positioned to mediate interactions between the host and surrounding organisms and to modulate the chemistry of the surrounding water column. The high density of microbial cells on kelp blades (105–107cells/cm2), combined with the immense surface area of kelp forests, indicates that biogeochemical functions of the kelp microbiome may play an important role in coastal ecosystems.