The marine environment is highly susceptible to pollution by petroleum, and so it is important to understand how microorganisms degrade hydrocarbons, and thereby mitigate ecosystem damage. Our understanding about the ecology, physiology, biochemistry and genetics of oil-degrading bacteria and fungi has increased greatly in recent decades; however, individual populations of microbes do not function alone in nature. The diverse array of hydrocarbons present in crude oil requires resource partitioning by microbial populations, and microbial modification of oil components and the surrounding environment will lead to temporal succession. But even when just one type of hydrocarbon is present, a network of direct and indirect interactions within and between species is observed. In this review we consider competition for resources, but focus on some of the key cooperative interactions: consumption of metabolites, biosurfactant production, provision of oxygen and fixed nitrogen. The emphasis is largely on aerobic processes, and especially interactions between bacteria, fungi and microalgae. The self-construction of a functioning community is central to microbial success, and learning how such “microbial modules” interact will be pivotal to enhancing biotechnological processes, including the bioremediation of hydrocarbons.
Keywords: Hydrocarbon, Crude oil, Salt marsh, Marine microbiology, Biodegradation, Bioremediation, Microbial interactions, Biogeochemistry, Alcanivorax