Embargo End Date2019-07-17
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AbstractPlants and animals have evolved unique morpho-physiological adaptions to cope with the harsh and steep environmental gradients that characterise the mangrove ecosystem. However, the capacity of these two main components of the system to thrive, and the extraordinary productivity of mangrove forests in extreme conditions, has been overlooked in terms of the role of the microbiome. By combining approaches that included molecular microbial ecology, biogeochemical analyses, microscopy, raman spectroscopy and microsensor measurements, this thesis aimed to investigate the potential role of bacterial symbiosis in the adaptation of mangrove crabs to their environment and subsequently how these different animals modify their environment. Finally, with a field-based approach monitoring microbial communities, sediment metabolism and plant performance, the thesis aimed to investigate the plant/animal/bacterial dynamics in relation to seasonal environmental changes to contribute to understand the mangrove plant productivity paradox of high productivity under conditions of limited nutrents. Crab species were associated with distinct gill-bacteria communities, that produced carotenoids, according with their level of terrestrial adaptation. These carotenoids may be involved in protecting the gills from oxidative stress during air exposure. The main groups of ecosystem engineering crabs in mangroves had significant but diverse effects on the sediment environment and microbiome predominantly related to their ecology (i.e. filter feeder vs herbivore). Burrows increase aerobic microbial activity in the immediate burrow wall with a cascade effect on sediment microbial communities and nutrient distribution observed consistently across mangroves in different locations and with diverse environmental conditions. Microorganisms play an important role in adapting crabs on their evolutionary path to land and could contribute to the success of their colonization. At high population densities, of more than 50 individuals per square meter in some mangroves, these crabs deeply impact the functioning of the mangrove ecosystem, affecting microbial networks and nutrient recycling in the sediment, which may ameliorate conditions for plant growth. The microbiome is an understudied component of mangroves that lies at the basis of the functioning of these systems, influencing the success of the animal inhabitants (ecosystem engineers) that deeply modify the sediment microbiome, therefore influencing ecosystem functioning and resilience and, potentially, the success of the plants themselves (ecosystem architects).