Cultivating epizoic diatoms provides insights into the evolution and ecology of both epibionts and hosts

Sci Rep. 2022 Sep 6;12(1):15116. doi: 10.1038/s41598-022-19064-0.


Our understanding of the importance of microbiomes on large aquatic animals-such as whales, sea turtles and manatees-has advanced considerably in recent years. The latest observations indicate that epibiotic diatom communities constitute diverse, polyphyletic, and compositionally stable assemblages that include both putatively obligate epizoic and generalist species. Here, we outline a successful approach to culture putatively obligate epizoic diatoms without their hosts. That some taxa can be cultured independently from their epizoic habitat raises several questions about the nature of the interaction between these animals and their epibionts. This insight allows us to propose further applications and research avenues in this growing area of study. Analyzing the DNA sequences of these cultured strains, we found that several unique diatom taxa have evolved independently to occupy epibiotic habitats. We created a library of reference sequence data for use in metabarcoding surveys of sea turtle and manatee microbiomes that will further facilitate the use of environmental DNA for studying host specificity in epizoic diatoms and the utility of diatoms as indicators of host ecology and health. We encourage the interdisciplinary community working with marine megafauna to consider including diatom sampling and diatom analysis into their routine practices.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Diatoms* / genetics
  • Ecology
  • Ecosystem
  • Turtles* / genetics