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Temporal Dynamics of Bacterial and Fungal Colonization on Plastic Debris in the North Sea

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journal contribution
posted on 31.05.2017 by Caroline De Tender, Lisa I. Devriese, Annelies Haegeman, Sara Maes, Jürgen Vangeyte, André Cattrijsse, Peter Dawyndt, Tom Ruttink
Despite growing evidence that biofilm formation on plastic debris in the marine environment may be essential for its biodegradation, the underlying processes have yet to be fully understood. Thus, far, bacterial biofilm formation had only been studied after short-term exposure or on floating plastic, yet a prominent share of plastic litter accumulates on the seafloor. In this study, we explored the taxonomic composition of bacterial and fungal communities on polyethylene plastic sheets and dolly ropes during long-term exposure on the seafloor, both at a harbor and an offshore location in the Belgian part of the North Sea. We reconstructed the sequence of events during biofilm formation on plastic in the harbor environment and identified a core bacteriome and subsets of bacterial indicator species for early, intermediate, and late stages of biofilm formation. Additionally, by implementing ITS2 metabarcoding on plastic debris, we identified and characterized for the first time fungal genera on plastic debris. Surprisingly, none of the plastics exposed to offshore conditions displayed the typical signature of a late stage biofilm, suggesting that biofilm formation is severely hampered in the natural environment where most plastic debris accumulates.