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Seagrass ecosystems reduce exposure to bacterial pathogens of humans, fishes, and invertebrates

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Science  17 Feb 2017:
Vol. 355, Issue 6326, pp. 731-733
DOI: 10.1126/science.aal1956

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Missing meadows fail to mop up microbes

Seagrass meadows, a prominent feature of most healthy coastal ecosystems, are often also associated with shallow coral reefs. Many plants have bioremediation qualities, and seagrasses, of which there are 60 or so species, produce natural biocides. Lamb et al. found that the seagrass meadows of inhabited atolls near Sulawesi, Indonesia, ameliorated seawater pollution from human-origination bacteria. This effect extended to potential pathogens of marine invertebrates and fish: Reefs fringing the seagrass meadows showed significantly less impact from coral and fish disease.

Science, this issue p. 731

Abstract

Plants are important in urban environments for removing pathogens and improving water quality. Seagrass meadows are the most widespread coastal ecosystem on the planet. Although these plants are known to be associated with natural biocide production, they have not been evaluated for their ability to remove microbiological contamination. Using amplicon sequencing of the 16S ribosomal RNA gene, we found that when seagrass meadows are present, there was a 50% reduction in the relative abundance of potential bacterial pathogens capable of causing disease in humans and marine organisms. Moreover, field surveys of more than 8000 reef-building corals located adjacent to seagrass meadows showed twofold reductions in disease levels compared to corals at paired sites without adjacent seagrass meadows. These results highlight the importance of seagrass ecosystems to the health of humans and other organisms.

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