Microbiomes Respond Predictably To Built Habitats On the Seafloor

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Ocean Science and Engineering


The seafloor contains complex ecosystems where habitat heterogeneity influences biodiversity. Natural biological and geological features including vents, seeps and reefs create habitats that select for distinct populations of micro- and macrofauna. While largely studied for macrobiological diversity, built habitats may also select distinct microbiomes. Built habitat density on the seafloor is increasing with ocean sprawl expanding in the continental shelf and slope, potentially having widespread effects on benthic communities. This study addresses one type of built habitat, shipwrecks, on microbiomes in surrounding sediment. Using deep-sea sediment samples (762 total) from the Gulf of Mexico, we report elevated diversity and a predictable core microbiome around nine shipwrecks. We show the sphere of influence of built habitats extends up to 300 m onto the seafloor. Supervised learning made predictions of sample proximity to structures based on frequency of taxa. Strongest predictions occurred in sediments nearest and furthest from sites for archaea and mid-transect for bacteria. The response of archaea to built habitats was consistent across sites, while bacteria showed greater between site variability. The archaeal core shipwreck microbiome was enriched in taxa (e.g., Bathyarchaeia, Lokiarchaeia, Thermoplasmata) not present in the surrounding seafloor. Shipwrecks shaped microbiomes in expected ways, providing insight on how built habitats impact microbiome biodiversity in the Anthropocene.

Publication Title

Molecular Ecology

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