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FEMS Microbiol Ecol. 2019 May 1;95(5). pii: fiz047. doi: 10.1093/femsec/fiz047.

Sediment microbial assemblage structure is modified by marine polychaete gut passage.

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Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom, The Laboratory, Citadel Hill, Plymouth, PL1 2PB, UK.
Ocean and Earth Science, University of Southampton, Waterfront Campus, National Oceanography Centre, European Way, Southampton, SO14 3ZH, UK.
Marine Biology and Ecology Research Group, School of Biological and Marine Sciences, University of Plymouth, Drake Circus, Plymouth, PL4 8AA, UK.


Invertebrate activities in sediments, predominantly the redistribution of particles and porewater, are well-known to regulate the structure of associated microbial assemblages; however, relatively little attention has been given to the effects of sediment ingestion, gut passage and excretion by deposit-feeding invertebrates. Here, we use high-throughput sequencing and quantitative PCR to examine how passage through the gut of the marine polychaete Hediste diversicolor affects the structure of bacterial and archaeal assemblages and the abundance of nitrogen cycling taxa. We show that the digestive tract of H. diversicolor contains unique transitory microbial assemblages that, during gut passage, become more like the surrounding sediment assemblages. Enrichment of similar microbial taxa in both the hindgut and the burrow wall suggest that these transitory gut assemblages may influence the composition of the local sediment community. The hindgut of H. diversicolor also forms a reservoir for unique ammonia-oxidising archaeal taxa. Furthermore, distinct microbial assemblages on external polychaete surfaces suggest that deposit-feeding invertebrates act as vectors that transport microbes between sediment patches. Collectively, these findings suggest that the passage of sediment and associated microbial assemblages through the gut of deposit feeding invertebrates is likely to play a significant role in regulating sediment microbial assemblages and biogeochemical functioning.


ecosystem functioning; functional traits; invertebrate–microbe interactions; microbiome; nitrogen cycling


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