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Shipwrecks Are Rich with Microbial Diversity
Shipwrecks Are Rich with Microbial Diversity

Lausanne, Switzerland, 9 Jun (ONA) --- Bacteria have helped lay the foundations for complex life by creating a hospitable atmosphere on our planet, and they continue to support the food web. It seems like microbes have colonized nearly every part of the earth, from the hottest hydrothermal vents to the insides of animals, including us. Now researchers have explored microbial communities that took up residence in old wooden shipwrecks.

UNESCO has estimated that there are about three million shipwrecks littering the seafloor, which all impact their local ecosystems, and potentially provide a hospitable place for sea creatures to live. Scientists have now learned more about the microbial communities in shipwrecks, revealing more about how humans have altered the environment. The findings have been reported in Frontiers in Marine Science.

In this study, the researchers went to the Gulf of Mexico to investigate two wooden sailing ships that sunk there in the late 19th century. The researchers left pine and oak wood pieces about 200 meters away from the shipwreck, then went back four months later to collect them. By that time, biofilms had grown on the wood. The researchers used gene sequencing to analyze the microbial species that were present, including archaea, bacteria, and fungi.

The scientists found that oak had more bacterial diversity than pine, but the type of wood had less of an impact on archaeal and fungal species. The distance the wood was placed from the wreck also affected the community. However, the researchers were surprised to find that the closest pieces did not have the most diversity, which was found to be greatest about 125 meters away from the wreck.

The shipwrecks did seem to increase microbial diversity in the local habitat, though it was also dependent on many other factors including nutrient availability and water depth.

The researchers noted that there are many other structures in the sea, such as gas and oil platforms, and that more work will be needed to learn about how they affect marine life.

--- Ends/Thuraiya/Khalid