Minor impacts of reduced pH on bacterial biofilms on settlement tiles along natural pH gradients at two CO2 seeps in Papua New Guinea

Bacterial biofilms provide cues for the settlement of marine invertebrates such as coral larvae, and are therefore important for the resilience and recovery of coral reefs. This study aimed to better understand how ocean acidification may affect the community composition and diversity of bacterial biofilms on surfaces under naturally reduced pH conditions. Settlement tiles were deployed at coral reefs in Papua New Guinea along pH gradients created by two CO2 seeps. Biofilms on upper and lower tiles surfaces were sampled 5 and 13 months after deployment. Automated Ribosomal Intergenic Spacer Analysis was used to characterize 240 separate bacterial communities, complemented by amplicon sequencing of the bacterial 16S rRNA gene of 16 samples. Bacterial biofilms consisted predominantly of Alpha-, Gamma-, and Delta-proteobacteria, as well as Cyanobacteria, Flavobacteriia, and Cytophagia, whereas taxa that induce settlement of invertebrate larvae only accounted for a small fraction of the community. Bacterial biofilm composition was heterogeneous, with on average only ∼25% of operational taxonomic units shared between samples. Among the observed environmental parameters, pH was only weakly related to community composition (R2 ∼ 1%), and was unrelated to community richness and evenness. In contrast, biofilms strongly differed between upper and lower tile surfaces (contrasting in light exposure and grazing intensity). There also appeared to be a strong interaction between bacterial biofilm composition and the macroscopic components of the tile community. Our results suggest that on mature settlement surfaces in situ, pH does not have a strong impact on the composition of bacterial biofilms. Other abiotic and biotic factors such as light exposure and interactions with other organisms may be more important in shaping bacterial biofilms on mature surfaces than changes in seawater pH.

Hassenrück C., Tegetmeyer H. E., Ramette A. & Fabricius K. E., 2017. Minor impacts of reduced pH on bacterial biofilms on settlement tiles along natural pH gradients at two CO2 seeps in Papua New Guinea. ICES Journal of Marine Science 74(4):978–987. Article.

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