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Marine sessile eukaryotic hosts provide a unique surface for microbial colonisation. Chemically mediated interactions between the host and colonising microorganisms, interactions between microorganisms in the biofilm community and surface-specific physical and chemical conditions impact differently on the diversity and function of surface-associated microbial assemblages compared with those in planktonic systems. Understanding the diversity and ecology of surface-associated microbial communities will greatly contribute to the discovery of next-generation, bioactive compounds. On the basis of recent conceptual and technological advances insights into the microbiology of marine living surfaces are improving and novel bioactives, including those previously ascribed as host derived, are now revealed to be produced by members of the surface-associated microbial community.