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Combined niche and neutral effects in a microbial wastewater treatment community

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Dana OfiteruORCiD, Professor Thomas CurtisORCiD, Professor William Sloan



It has long been assumed that differences in the relative abundance of taxa in microbial communities reflect differences in environmental conditions. Here we show that in the economically and environmentally important microbial communities in a wastewater treatment plant, the population dynamics are consistent with neutral community assembly, where chance and random immigration play an important and predictable role in shaping the communities. Using dynamic observations, we demonstrate a straightforward calibration of a purely neutral model and a parsimonious method to incorporate environmental influence on the reproduction (or birth) rate of individual taxa. The calibrated model parameters are biologically plausible, with the population turnover and diversity in the heterotrophic community being higher than for the ammonia oxidizing bacteria (AOB) and immigration into AOB community being relatively higher. When environmental factors were incorporated more of the variance in the observations could be explained but immigration and random reproduction and deaths remained the dominant driver in determining the relative abundance of the common taxa. Consequently we suggest that neutral community models should be the foundation of any description of an open biological system.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Ofiteru ID, Lunn M, Curtis TP, Wells GF, Criddle CS, Francis CA, Sloan WT

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Year: 2010

Volume: 107

Issue: 35

Pages: 15345-15350

Print publication date: 31/08/2010

Date deposited: 07/12/2010

ISSN (print): 0027-8424

ISSN (electronic): 1091-6490

Publisher: National Academy of Sciences


DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1000604107


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