Seaweeds (macroalgae) form a diverse and ubiquitous group of photosynthetic organisms that play an essential role in aquatic ecosystems. These ecosystem engineers contribute significantly to global primary production and are the major habitat formers on rocky shores in temperate waters, providing food and shelter for aquatic life. Like other eukaryotic organisms, macroalgae harbor a rich diversity of associated microorganisms with functions related to host health and defense. In particular, epiphytic bacterial communities have been reported as essential for normal morphological development of the algal host, and bacteria with antifouling properties are thought to protect chemically undefended macroalgae from detrimental, secondary colonization by other microscopic and macroscopic epibiota. This tight relationship suggests that macroalgae and epiphytic bacteria interact as a unified functional entity or holobiont, analogous to the previously suggested relationship in corals. Moreover, given that the impact of diseases in marine ecosystems is apparently increasing, understanding the role of bacteria as saprophytes and pathogens in seaweed communities may have important implications for marine management strategies. This review reports on the recent advances in the understanding of macroalgal-bacterial interactions with reference to the diversity and functional role of epiphytic bacteria in maintaining algal health, highlighting the holobiont concept.
© 2012 Federation of European Microbiological Societies. Published by Blackwell Publishing Ltd. All rights reserved.