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Neutral mechanisms and niche differentiation in steady-state insular microbial communities revealed by single cell analysis

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



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC 4.0).


© 2018 The Authors. Environmental Microbiology published by Society for Applied Microbiology and John Wiley & Sons Ltd. In completely insular microbial communities, evolution of community structure cannot be shaped by the immigration of new members. In addition, when those communities are run in steady state, the influence of environmental factors on their assembly is reduced. Therefore, one would expect similar community structures under steady-state conditions. Yet, in parallel setups, variability does occur. To reveal ecological mechanisms behind this phenomenon, five parallel reactors were studied at the single-cell level for about 100 generations and community structure variations were quantified by ecological measures. Whether community variability can be controlled was tested by implementing soft temperature stressors as potential synchronizers. The low slope of the lognormal rank-order abundance curves indicated a predominance of neutral mechanisms, i.e., where species identity plays no role. Variations in abundance ranks of subcommunities and increase in inter-community pairwise β-diversity over time support this. Niche differentiation was also observed, as indicated by steeper geometric-like rank-order abundance curves and increased numbers of correlations between abiotic and biotic parameters during initial adaptation and after disturbances. Still, neutral forces dominated community assembly. Our findings suggest that complex microbial communities in insular steady-state environments can be difficult to synchronize and maintained in their original or desired structure, as they are non-equilibrium systems.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Liu Z, Cichocki N, Hubschmann T, Suring C, Ofiteru ID, Sloan WT, Grimm V, Muller S

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Environmental Microbiology

Year: 2018

Volume: 21

Issue: 1

Pages: 164-181

Print publication date: 01/01/2019

Online publication date: 05/10/2018

Acceptance date: 30/09/2018

Date deposited: 19/11/2018

ISSN (print): 1462-2912

ISSN (electronic): 1462-2920

Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell Publishing Ltd.


DOI: 10.1111/1462-2920.14437


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