Effect of marine heatwaves and warming on kelp microbiota influence trophic interactions

Louise C. Castro, Adriana Vergés, Sandra C. Straub, Alexandra H. Campbell, Melinda A. Coleman, Thomas Wernberg, Peter Steinberg, Torsten Thomas, Symon Dworjanyn, Paulina Cetina-Heredia, Moninya Roughan, Ezequiel M. Marzinelli

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1 Citation (Scopus)


The range-expansion of tropical herbivores due to ocean warming can profoundly alter temperate reef communities by overgrazing the seaweed forests that underpin them. Such ecological interactions may be mediated by changes to seaweed-associated microbiota in response to warming, but empirical evidence demonstrating this is rare. We experimentally simulated ocean warming and marine heatwaves (MHWs) to quantify effects on two dominant temperate seaweed species and their microbiota, as well as grazing by a tropical herbivore. The kelp Ecklonia radiata's microbiota in sustained warming and MHW treatments was enriched with microorganisms associated with seaweed disease and tissue degradation. In contrast, the fucoid Sargassum linearifolium's microbiota was unaffected by temperature. Consumption by the tropical sea-urchin Tripneustes gratilla was greater on Ecklonia where the microbiota had been altered by higher temperatures, while Sargassum's consumption was unaffected. Elemental traits (carbon, nitrogen), chemical defences (phenolics) and tissue bleaching of both seaweeds were generally unaffected by temperature. Effects of warming and MHWs on seaweed holobionts (host plus its microbiota) are likely species-specific. The effect of increased temperature on Ecklonia's microbiota and subsequent increased consumption suggest that changes to kelp microbiota may underpin kelp-herbivore interactions, providing novel insights into potential mechanisms driving change in species' interactions in warming oceans.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere17267
JournalMolecular Ecology
Issue number5
Early online date17 Jan 2024
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2024


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