Monthly Archives: April 2017

Preprint available: Microbiome succession during ammonification in eelgrass bed sediments


Background. Eelgrass (Zostera marina) is a marine angiosperm and foundation species that plays an important ecological role in primary production, food web support, and elemental cycling in coastal ecosystems. As with other plants, the microbial communities living in, on, and near eelgrass are thought to be intimately connected to the ecology and biology of eelgrass. Here we characterized the microbial communities in eelgrass sediments throughout an experiment to quantify the rate of ammonification, the first step in early remineralization of organic matter, or diagenesis, from plots at a field site in Bodega Bay, CA.

Methods. Sediment was collected from 72 plots from a 15 month long field experiment in which eelgrass genotypic richness and relatedness were manipulated. In the laboratory, we placed sediment samples (n= 4 per plot) under a N2 atmosphere, incubated them at in situ temperatures (15 oC) and sampled them initially and after 4, 7, 13, and 19 days to determine the ammonification rate. Comparative microbiome analysis using high throughput sequencing of 16S rRNA genes was performed on sediment samples taken initially and at 7, 13 and 19 days to characterize the relative abundances of microbial taxa and how they changed throughout early diagenesis.

Results. Within-sample diversity of the sediment microbial communities across all plots decreased after the initial timepoint using both richness based (observed number of OTUs, Chao1) and richness and evenness based diversity metrics (Shannon, Inverse Simpson). Additionally, microbial community composition changed across the different timepoints. Many of the observed changes in relative abundance of taxonomic groups between timepoints appeared driven by sulfur cycling with observed decreases in sulfur reducers (Desulfobacterales) and corresponding increases in sulfide oxidizers (Alteromonadales and Thiotrichales). None of these changes in composition or richness were associated with ammonification rates.

Discussion. Overall, our results showed that the microbiome of sediment from different plots followed similar successional patterns, which we surmise to be due to changes related to sulfur metabolism. These large changes likely overwhelmed any potential changes in sediment microbiome related to ammonification rate. We found no relationship between eelgrass presence or genetic composition and the microbiome. This was likely due to our sampling of bulk sediments to measure ammonification rates rather than sampling microbes in sediment directly in contact with the plants and suggests that eelgrass influence on the sediment microbiome may be limited in spatial extent. More in-depth functional studies associated with eelgrass microbiome will be required in order to fully understand the implications of these microbial communities in broader host-plant and ecosystem functions (e.g. elemental cycling and eelgrass-microbe interactions).

Now out in PeerJ: Microbial communities in sediment from Zostera marina patches, but not the Z. marina leaf or root microbiomes, vary in relation to distance from patch edge

tl;dr – The microbes (bacteria) on plant parts  (root, leaf) and near-by sediment were different from each other. We did not find a difference between the microbes on  eelgrass leaves or roots at the edge of a patch versus the middle of the patch. However, the microbes in sediments from different locations in the patch (middle, edge, outside of the patch) differed and these differences correlated with eelgrass density.



Zostera marina (also known as eelgrass) is a foundation species in coastal and marine ecosystems worldwide and is a model for studies of seagrasses (a paraphyletic group in the order Alismatales) that include all the known fully submerged marine angiosperms. In recent years, there has been a growing appreciation of the potential importance of the microbial communities (i.e., microbiomes) associated with various plant species. Here we report a study of variation in Z. marina microbiomes from a field site in Bodega Bay, CA.


We characterized and then compared the microbial communities of root, leaf and sediment samples (using 16S ribosomal RNA gene PCR and sequencing) and associated environmental parameters from the inside, edge and outside of a single subtidal Z. marina patch. Multiple comparative approaches were used to examine associations between microbiome features (e.g., diversity, taxonomic composition) and environmental parameters and to compare sample types and sites.


Microbial communities differed significantly between sample types (root, leaf and sediment) and in sediments from different sites (inside, edge, outside). Carbon:Nitrogen ratio and eelgrass density were both significantly correlated to sediment community composition. Enrichment of certain taxonomic groups in each sample type was detected and analyzed in regard to possible functional implications (especially regarding sulfur metabolism).


Our results are mostly consistent with prior work on seagrass associated microbiomes with a few differences and additional findings. From a functional point of view, the most significant finding is that many of the taxa that differ significantly between sample types and sites are closely related to ones commonly associated with various aspects of sulfur and nitrogen metabolism. Though not a traditional model organism, we believe that Z. marina can become a model for studies of marine plant-microbiome interactions.

Now out in AEM: Global-scale structure of the eelgrass microbiome

Ashkaan’s paper was accepted in AEM!


Plant-associated microorganisms are essential for their hosts’ survival and performance. Yet, most plant microbiome studies to date have focused on terrestrial species sampled across relatively small spatial scales. Here we report results of a global-scale analysis of microbial communities associated with leaf and root surfaces of the marine eelgrass Zostera marina throughout its range in the Northern Hemisphere. By contrasting host microbiomes with those of surrounding seawater and sediment, we uncovered the structure, composition and variability of microbial communities associated with eelgrass. We also investigated hypotheses about the assembly of the eelgrass microbiome using a metabolic modeling approach. Our results reveal leaf communities displaying high variability and spatial turnover, that mirror their adjacent coastal seawater microbiomes. In contrast, roots showed relatively low compositional turnover and were distinct from surrounding sediment communities — a result driven by the enrichment of predicted sulfur-oxidizing bacterial taxa on root surfaces. Predictions from metabolic modeling of enriched taxa were consistent with a habitat filtering community assembly mechanism whereby similarity in resource use drives taxonomic co-occurrence patterns on belowground, but not aboveground, host tissues. Our work provides evidence for a core eelgrass root microbiome with putative functional roles and highlights potentially disparate processes influencing microbial community assembly on different plant compartments.

IMPORTANCE Plants depend critically on their associated microbiome, yet the structure of microbial communities found on marine plants remains poorly understood in comparison to terrestrial species. Seagrasses are the only flowering plants that live entirely in marine environments. The return of terrestrial seagrass ancestors to oceans is among the most extreme habitat shifts documented in plants, making them an ideal test bed for the study of microbial symbioses with plants that experience relatively harsh abiotic conditions. In this study, we report results of a global sampling effort to extensively characterize the structure of microbial communities associated with the widespread seagrass species, Zostera marina or eelgrass, across its geographic range. Our results reveal major differences in the structure and composition of above- versus belowground microbial communities on eelgrass surfaces, as well as their relationships with the environment and host.