Biogeography rather than substrate type determines bacterial colonization dynamics of marine plastics

Since the middle of the 20th century, plastics have been incorporated into our everyday lives at an exponential rate. In recent years, the negative impacts of plastics, especially as environmental pollutants, have become evident. Marine plastic debris represents a relatively new and increasingly abundant substrate for colonization by microbial organisms, although the full functional potential of these organisms is yet to be uncovered. In the present study, we investigated plastic type and incubation location as drivers of marine bacterial community structure development on plastics, i.e., the Plastisphere, via 16S rRNA amplicon analysis. Four distinct plastic types: high-density polyethylene (HDPE), linear low-density polyethylene (LDPE), polyamide (PA), polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA), and glass-slide controls were incubated for five weeks in the coastal waters of four different biogeographic locations (Cape Verde, Chile, Japan, South Africa) during July and August of 2019. The primary driver of the coastal Plastisphere composition was identified as incubation location, i.e., biogeography, while substrate type did not have a significant effect on bacterial community composition. The bacterial communities were consistently dominated by the classes Alphaproteobacteria, Gammaproteobacteria, and Bacteroidia, irrespective of sampling location or substrate type, however a core bacterial Plastisphere community was not observable at lower taxonomic levels. Overall, this study sheds light on the question of whether bacterial communities on plastic debris are shaped by the physicochemical properties of the substrate they grow on or by the marine environment in which the plastics are immersed. This study enhances the current understanding of biogeographic variability in the Plastisphere by including biofilms from plastics incubated in the previously uncharted Southern Hemisphere.


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