Disturbed subsurface microbial communities follow equivalent trajectories despite different structural starting points.

Microbial community structure, and niche and neutral processes can all influence response to disturbance. Here, we provide experimental evidence for niche versus neutral and founding community effects during a bioremediation-related organic carbon disturbance. Subsurface sediment, partitioned into 22 flow-through columns, was stimulated in situ by the addition of acetate as a carbon and electron donor source. This drove the system into a new transient biogeochemical state characterized by iron reduction and enriched Desulfuromonadales, Comamonadaceae and Bacteroidetes lineages. After approximately 1 month conditions favoured sulfate reduction, and were accompanied by a substantial increase in the relative abundance of Desulfobulbus, Desulfosporosinus, Desulfitobacterium and Desulfotomaculum. Two subsets of four to five columns each were switched from acetate to lactate amendment during either iron (earlier) or sulfate (later) reduction. Hence, subsets had significantly different founding communities. All lactate treatments exhibited lower relative abundances of Desulfotomaculum and Bacteroidetes, enrichments of Clostridiales and Psychrosinus species, and a temporal succession from highly abundant Clostridium sensu stricto to Psychrosinus. Regardless of starting point, lactate-switch communities followed comparable structural trajectories, whereby convergence was evident 9 to 16 days after each switch, and significant after 29 to 34 days of lactate addition. Results imply that neither the founding community nor neutral processes influenced succession following perturbation.

PMID: 24674078