Microbial Ecology

, Volume 78, Issue 2, pp 361–374 | Cite as

Fouling Microbial Communities on Plastics Compared with Wood and Steel: Are They Substrate- or Location-Specific?

  • Thirumahal Muthukrishnan
  • Maryam Al Khaburi
  • Raeid M. M. AbedEmail author
Environmental Microbiology


Although marine biofouling has been widely studied on different substrates, information on biofouling on plastics in the Arabian Gulf is limited. Substrate- and location-specific effects were investigated by comparing the microbial communities developed on polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and polyethylene (PE) with those on steel and wood, at two locations in the Sea of Oman. Total biomass was lower on PET and PE than on steel and wood. PET had the highest bacterial abundance at both locations, whereas chlorophyll a concentrations did not vary between substrates. MiSeq 16S ribosomal RNA sequencing revealed comparable operational taxonomic unit (OTU) richness on all substrates at one location but lower numbers on PET and PE at the other location. Non-metric multidimensional scaling (NMDS) showed distinct clusters of the bacterial communities based on substrate (analysis of similarity (ANOSIM), R = 0.45–0.97, p < 0.03) and location (ANOSIM, R = 0.56, p < 0.0001). The bacterial genera Microcystis and Hydrogenophaga and the diatoms Licmophora and Mastogloia were specifically detected on plastics. Desulfovibrio and Pseudomonas spp. exhibited their highest abundance on steel and Corynebacterium spp. on wood. Scanning electron microscopy (SEM) revealed fissure formation on PET and PE, indicating physical degradation. The presence of free radicals on PET and carbonyl bonds (C=O) on PE, as revealed by Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy, indicated abiotic degradation while hydroxyl groups and spectral peaks for proteins and polysaccharides on PE indicated biotic degradation. We conclude that fouling microbial communities are not only substrate-specific but also location-specific and microbes developing on plastics could potentially contribute to their degradation in the marine environment.


Biofouling Substrates Plastic MiSeq FTIR SEM 



We would like to thank Mr. Ahmed Al Rawahi and Mr. Abdullah Al Nashri for their help during the experimental setup and sample collection. We would also like to acknowledge the Technical Unit of University of Nizwa and Dr. Abdul Munam, Sultan Qaboos University, for their kind guidance during the FTIR analysis and data interpretation. RA would like to thank the Hanse-Wissenschaftskolleg (HWK), Institute for Advanced Study, Germany, for supporting his study group.

Funding Information

This research was financially supported by the collaborative grant (SQU-GCC/CL/17/02).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

248_2018_1303_MOESM1_ESM.docx (3.1 mb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 3185 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Thirumahal Muthukrishnan
    • 1
  • Maryam Al Khaburi
    • 1
  • Raeid M. M. Abed
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Biology Department, College of ScienceSultan Qaboos UniversityAl KhoudSultanate of Oman

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