The composition of bacterial communities associated with plastic biofilms differs between different polymers and stages of biofilm succession

Maria Pinto, Teresa M Langer, Thorsten Hüffer, Thilo Hofmann, Gerhard J Herndl

Once in the ocean, plastics are rapidly colonized by complex microbial communities. Factors affecting the development and composition of these communities are still poorly understood. Additionally, whether there are plastic-type specific communities developing on different plastics remains enigmatic. We determined the development and succession of bacterial communities on different plastics under ambient and dim light conditions in the coastal Northern Adriatic over the course of two months using scanning electron microscopy and 16S rRNA gene analyses. Plastics used were low- and high-density polyethylene (LDPE and HDPE, respectively), polypropylene (PP) and polyvinyl chloride with two typical additives (PVC DEHP and PVC DINP). The bacterial communities developing on the plastics clustered in two groups; one group was found on PVC and the other group on all the other plastics and on glass, which was used as an inert control. Specific bacterial taxa were found on specific surfaces in essentially all stages of biofilm development and in both ambient and dim light conditions. Differences in bacterial community composition between the different plastics and light exposures were stronger after an incubation period of one week than at the later stages of the incubation. Under both ambient and dim light conditions, one part of the bacterial community was common on all plastic types, especially in later stages of the biofilm development, with families such as Flavobacteriaceae, Rhodobacteraceae, Planctomycetaceae and Phyllobacteriaceae presenting relatively high relative abundances on all surfaces. Another part of the bacterial community was plastic-type specific. The plastic-type specific fraction was variable among the different plastic types and was more abundant after one week of incubation than at later stages of the succession.

Functional and Evolutionary Ecology, Research Platform Plastics in the Environment and Society, Department of Environmental Geosciences
External organisation(s)
Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research
Publication date
Peer reviewed
Austrian Fields of Science 2012
Marine biology
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