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Advances and Challenges in Microphytobenthos Research: From Cell Biology to Coastal Ecosystem Function

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The microphytobenthos are fascinating communities of microalgae and cyanobacteria that inhabit aquatic benthic habitats. The apparently barren intertidal landscapes of estuaries are in fact a 'secret garden', harboring an immense microbial diversity and intense photosynthetic and biogeochemical activity. On ...

The microphytobenthos are fascinating communities of microalgae and cyanobacteria that inhabit aquatic benthic habitats. The apparently barren intertidal landscapes of estuaries are in fact a 'secret garden', harboring an immense microbial diversity and intense photosynthetic and biogeochemical activity. On the intertidal flats of estuaries and beneath shallow coastal waters, the microphytobenthos are dominated by pennate diatoms, the most recent and diverse group of these important Protists.

Microphytobenthos have mostly been studied in temperate estuaries, but they have a widespread distribution from polar regions to the tropics. Over the last decades, the microphytobenthos have attracted considerable interest mainly due to their role as a main contributor to the productivity of estuarine and shallow coastal areas. With a global annual gross primary production estimated to be in the order of 500 million tons of carbon, these ecosystems can be responsible for up to 20% of the ocean GPP although occupying only 0.03% of the ocean surface area. For estuarine ecosystems, they have been estimated to reach productivity rates comparable to those of the phytoplankton, and can provide up to 50% of total ecosystem-level carbon fixation.

Best known for their high photosynthetic activity and carbon fixation, microphytobenthos have received an increasing interest in recent years, on multiple and apparently disparate disciplines such as photonics, photophysiology, community ecology, biogeochemistry, microbiology, evolutionary science, remote sensing and molecular biology. Some of the specific current interests in MPB include diatom-bacteria interactions, cell motility and behavior, endogenous rhythms, nutrient cycling, primary productivity, carbon capture (`blue carbon'), extracellular polymeric substances production, and sediment biostabilization.

This Research Topic aims to bring together contributions on microphytobenthos research, updating current knowledge and uncovering exciting future directions of strategic value and ultimately linking the particular traits of the cell biology of pennate diatoms to emerging properties observed at the community and ecosystem-level. We welcome manuscripts reporting original research, mini-reviews or opinion on this broad topic. Papers covering new methods and approaches are also welcomed.


Keywords: Diatoms, Intertidal flats, Microphytobenthos, Productivity, Sediments


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