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A spatio-temporal analysis of marine diatom communities associated with pristine and aged plastics


Complex microbial communities colonize plastic substrates over time, strongly influencing their fate and potential impacts on marine ecosystems. Among the first colonizers, diatoms play an important role in the development of this ‘plastiphere’. We investigated 936 biofouling samples and the factors influencing diatom communities associated with plastic colonization. These factors included geographic location (up to 800 km apart), duration of substrate submersion (1 to 52 weeks), plastics (5 polymer types) and impact of artificial ageing with UV light. Diatom communities colonizing plastic debris were primarily determined by their geographic location and submersion time, with the strongest changes occurring within two weeks of submersion. Several taxa were identified as early colonizers (e.g. Cylindrotheca, Navicula and Nitzschia spp.) with known strong adhesion capabilities. To a lesser extent, plastic-type and UV-ageing significantly affected community composition, with 14 taxa showing substrate-specificity. This study highlights the role of plastics types-state for colonization in the ocean.

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