While the distribution and dynamics of macroscopic organisms in the marine environment has been well studied for many decades, similar observations are lacking for microorganisms. This has been mainly due to technical limitations, however recent development in high-throughput sequencing and bioinformatics allow us now to “observe” microorganisms in the natural environment in unprecedented scale and detail. Microorganisms are broadly known to have essential roles in global biogeochemical cycles, such as carbon dioxide and nitrogen fixation and remineralisation of organic matter. However the microbial diversity as well as its spatial and temporal dynamic that underpin these functions are poorly understood. It is likely that microbial function and diversity will respond to environmental change, which is particularly relevant for coastal systems, where urbanisation and freshwater inflow causes particular types of stresses in marine biota.
With the support of Bioplatforms Australia and in collaboration with researchers from the University of Technology, Sydney, Macquarie University, the Australian Institute of Marine Science and Edith Cowan University, Perth, we are establishing a large-scale coastal, microbial observatory program. This program will investigate the temporal and spatial dynamic of microbial communities in the water column, sediments and associated with corals, seaweeds, sponges and seagrasses. An outcome will be one of the most comprehensive descriptions of microbial diversity and function in the coastal environment and a deeper understanding of how microbial systems respond to environmental change and in turn influence ecosystem function. For more information contact A/Prof Torsten Thomas, Prof Peter Steinberg or Dr Suhelen Egan.