Microbial biofilms are biological structures composed of surface-attached microbial communities embedded in an extracellular polymeric matrix. In aquatic environments, the microbial colonization of submerged surfaces is a complex process involving several factors, related to both environmental conditions and to the physical-chemical nature of the substrates. Several studies have addressed this issue; however, more research is still needed on microbial biofilms in marine ecosystems. After a brief report on environmental drivers of biofilm formation, this study reviews current knowledge of microbial community attached to artificial substrates, as obtained by experiments performed on several material types deployed in temperate and extreme polar marine ecosystems. Depending on the substrate, different microbial communities were found, sometimes highlighting the occurrence of species-specificity. Future research challenges and concluding remarks are also considered. Emphasis is given to future perspectives in biofilm studies and their potential applications, related to biofouling prevention (such as cell-to-cell communication by quorum sensing or improved knowledge of drivers/signals affecting biological settlement) as well as to the potential use of microbial biofilms as sentinels of environmental changes and new candidates for bioremediation purposes.
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