Seagrasses are globally distributed marine flowering plants that are foundation species in coastal ecosystems. Seagrass beds play essential roles as habitats and hatcheries, in nutrient cycling and in protecting the coastline from erosion. Although many studies have focused on seagrass ecology, only a limited number have investigated their associated fungi. In terrestrial systems, fungi can have beneficial and detrimental effects on plant fitness. However, not much is known about marine fungi and even less is known about seagrass associated fungi. Here we used culture-independent sequencing of the ribosomal internal transcribed spacer (ITS) region to characterize the taxonomic diversity of fungi associated with the seagrass, Zostera marina. We sampled from two Z. marina beds in Bodega Bay over three time points to investigate fungal diversity within and between plants. Our results indicate that there are many fungal taxa for which a taxonomic assignment cannot be made living on and inside Z. marina leaves, roots and rhizomes and that these plant tissues harbor distinct fungal communities. The most prevalent ITS amplicon sequence variant (ASV) associated with Z. marina leaves was classified as fungal, but could not initially be assigned to a fungal phylum. We then used PCR with a primer targeting unique regions of the ITS2 region of this ASV and an existing primer for the fungal 28S rRNA gene to amplify part of the 28S rRNA gene region and link it to this ASV. Sequencing and phylogenetic analysis of the resulting partial 28S rRNA gene revealed that the organism that this ASV comes from is a member of Novel Clade SW-I in the order Lobulomycetales in the phylum Chytridiomycota. This clade includes known parasites of freshwater diatoms and algae and it is possible this chytrid is directly infecting Z. marina leaf tissues. This work highlights a need for further studies focusing on marine fungi and the potential importance of these understudied communities to the larger seagrass ecosystem.
My blog post Investigating the Seagrass Microbiome, is a short summary of Cassie Ettinger’s 2017 paper on Zostera marina microbial communities. The post is a quick read that is written for a general audience and focuses on the paper’s main findings. I originally wrote the piece for my writing course (UWP 102B: Writing for Biological Sciences) and modeled it after the posts on the UCD Egghead Blog.
The post is published on the Egghead Blog and can be found here.
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, also known as diagenesis, from plots at a field site in Bodega Bay, CA.
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 °C) 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 seven, 13 and 19 days to characterize changes in the relative abundances of microbial taxa throughout ammonification.
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 predicted sulfur reducers (Desulfobacterales) and corresponding increases in predicted sulfide oxidizers (Thiotrichales). None of these changes in composition or richness were associated with variation in ammonification rates.
Our results showed that the microbiome of sediment from different plots followed similar successional patterns, which we infer 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).
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.
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 their surrounding seawater and sediment communities, we uncovered the structure, composition and variability of microbial communities associated with Z. marina. We also investigated hypotheses about the mechanisms driving assembly of the eelgrass microbiome using a whole-genomic metabolic modeling approach. Our results reveal aboveground leaf communities displaying high variability and spatial turnover, that strongly mirror their adjacent coastal seawater microbiomes. In contrast, roots showed relatively low spatial turnover and were compositionally distinct from surrounding sediment communities – a result driven by the enrichment of predicted sulfur-oxidizing bacterial taxa on root surfaces. Metabolic modeling of enriched taxa was consistent with an assembly process whereby similarity in resource use drives taxonomic co-occurrence patterns on belowground, but not aboveground, host tissues. Our work provides evidence for a core Z. marina root microbiome with putative functional roles and highlights potentially disparate processes influencing microbiome assembly on different plant compartments.