Ecosystem engineers drive differing microbial community composition in intertidal estuarine sediments

Adam J. Wyness*, Irene Fortune, Andrew J. Blight, Patricia Browne, Morgan Hartley, Matthew Holden, David M. Paterson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)
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Intertidal systems are complex and dynamic environments with many interacting factors influencing biochemical characteristics and microbial communities. One key factor are the actions of resident fauna, many of which are regarded as ecosystem engineers because of their bioturbation, bioirrigation and sediment stabilising activities. The purpose of this investigation was to elucidate the evolutionary implications of the ecosystem engineering process by identifying, if any, aspects that act as selection pressures upon microbial communities. A mesocosm study was performed using the well characterised intertidal ecosystem engineers Corophium volutator, Hediste diversicolor, and microphytobenthos, in addition to manual turbation of sediments to compare effects of bioturbation, bioirrigation and stabilisation. A range of sediment functions and biogeochemical gradients were measured in conjunction with 16S rRNA sequencing and diatom taxonomy, with downstream bacterial metagenome function prediction, to identify selection pressures that incited change to microbial community composition and function. Bacterial communities were predominantly Proteobacteria, with the relative abundance of Bacteroidetes, Alphaproteobacteria and Verrucomicrobia being partially displaced by Deltaproteobacteria, Acidobacteria and Chloroflexi as dissolved oxygen concentration and redox potential decreased. Bacterial community composition was driven strongly by biogeochemistry; surface communities were affected by a combination of sediment functions and overlying water turbidity, and subsurface communities by biogeochemical gradients driven by sediment reworking. Diatom communities were dominated by Nitzschia laevis and Achnanthes sp., and assemblage composition was influenced by overlying water turbidity (manual or biogenic) rather than direct infaunal influences such as grazing.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0240952
Number of pages20
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 19 Feb 2021


  • Research Article
  • Earth sciences
  • Research and analysis methods
  • Biology and life sciences
  • Physical sciences
  • Ecology and environmental sciences


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