Background. Oysters in coastal environments are subject to fluctuating environmental conditions that may impact the ecosystem services they provide. Oyster-associated microbiomes are responsible for some of these services, particularly nutrient cycling in benthic habitats. The effects of climate change on host-associated microbiome composition are well-known, but functional changes and how they may impact host physiology and ecosystem functioning are poorly characterized. We investigated how environmental parameters affect oyster-associated microbial community structure and function along a trophic gradient in Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island, USA. Adult eastern oyster, Crassostrea virginica, gut and seawater samples were collected at 5 sites along this estuarine nutrient gradient in August 2017. Samples were analyzed by 16S rRNA gene sequencing to characterize bacterial community structures and metatranscriptomes were sequenced to determine oyster gut microbiome responses to local environments.
Results. There were significant differences in bacterial community structure between the eastern oyster gut and water samples, suggesting selection of certain taxa by the oyster host. Increasing salinity, pH, and dissolved oxygen, and decreasing nitrate, nitrite and phosphate concentrations were observed along the North to South gradient. Transcriptionally active bacterial taxa were similar for the different sites, but expression of oyster-associated microbial genes involved in nutrient (nitrogen and phosphorus) cycling varied throughout the Bay, reflecting the local nutrient regimes and prevailing environmental conditions.
Conclusions. The observed shifts in microbial community composition and function inform how estuarine conditions affect host-associated microbiomes and their ecosystem services. As the effects of estuarine acidification are expected to increase due to the combined effects of eutrophication, coastal pollution, and climate change, it is important to determine relationships between host health, microbial community structure, and environmental conditions in benthic communities.
Stevick, R.J., Post, A.F. & Gómez-Chiarri, M. Functional plasticity in oyster gut microbiomes along a eutrophication gradient in an urbanized estuary. anim microbiome 3, 5 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1186/s42523-020-00066-0.