Frequency of disturbance alters diversity, function, and underlying assembly mechanisms of complex bacterial communities
Reference: npj Biofilms and Microbiomes (2019) 5: 8.

Disturbance is known to affect the ecosystem structure, but predicting its outcomes remains elusive. Similarly, community diversity is believed to relate to ecosystem functions, yet the underlying mechanisms are poorly understood. Here, we tested the effect of disturbance on the structure, assembly, and ecosystem function of complex microbial communities within an engineered system. We carried out a microcosm experiment where activated sludge bioreactors operated in daily cycles were subjected to eight different frequency levels of augmentation with a toxic pollutant, from never (undisturbed) to every day (press-disturbed), for 35 days. Microbial communities were assessed by combining distance-based methods, general linear multivariate models, α-diversity indices, and null model analyses on metagenomics and 16S rRNA gene amplicon data. A stronger temporal decrease in α-diversity at the extreme, undisturbed and press-disturbed, ends of the disturbance range led to a hump-backed pattern, with the highest diversity found at intermediate levels of disturbance. Undisturbed and press-disturbed levels displayed the highest community and functional similarity across replicates, suggesting deterministic processes were dominating. The opposite was observed amongst intermediately disturbed levels, indicating stronger stochastic assembly mechanisms. Trade-offs were observed in the ecosystem function between organic carbon removal and both nitrification and biomass productivity, as well as between diversity and these functions. Hence, not every ecosystem function was favoured by higher community diversity. Our results show that the assessment of changes in diversity, along with the underlying stochastic–deterministic assembly processes, is essential to understanding the impact of disturbance in complex microbial communities.


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