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Title: Spatial organization of the kelp microbiome at micron scales
Abstract Background

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 kelpNereocystis luetkeanausing fluorescence in situ hybridization and spectral imaging with a probe set combining phylum-, class-, and genus-level probes to localize and identify > 90% of the microbial community.


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 symbiontGranulosicoccussp. (Gammaproteobacteria) close to the kelp surface and filamentousBacteroidetesandAlphaproteobacteriarelatively more abundant near the biofilm-seawater interface. A community rich inBacteroidetescolonized the interior of kelp tissues. Microbial cell density increased markedly along the length of the kelp blade, from sparse microbial colonization of newly produced tissues at the meristematic base of the blade to an abundant microbial biofilm on older tissues at the blade tip. Kelp from a declining population hosted fewer microbial cells compared to kelp from a stable population.


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.

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Author(s) / Creator(s):
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Publisher / Repository:
Springer Science + Business Media
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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