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Environ Microbiol. 2005 Mar;7(3):301-13.

Bacterial diversity promotes community stability and functional resilience after perturbation.

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  • 1School of Medical Sciences, University of Aberdeen, Institute of Medical Sciences, Foresterhill, Aberdeen AB25 2ZD, Scotland, UK.


The relationships between bacterial community diversity and stability were investigated by perturbing soils, with naturally differing levels of diversity, to equivalent toxicity using copper sulfate and benzene. Benzene amendment led to large decreases in total bacterial numbers and biomass in both soils. Benzene amendment of an organo-mineral/improved pasture soil altered total soil bacterial community structure but, unlike amendment of the mineral/arable soil, maintained genetic diversity, based on polymerase chain reaction-denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (PCR-DGGE) analysis targeting DNA and RNA, until week 9 of the perturbation experiment. Assuming equivalent toxicity, the genetic diversity of the naturally more diverse soil was more resistant to benzene perturbation than the less diverse soil. The broad scale function (mineralization of 14C-labelled wheat shoot) of both benzene- and copper-treated soil communities was unaffected. However, narrow niche function (mineralization of 14C-labelled 2,4-dichlorophenol) was impaired for both benzene-polluted soils. The organo-mineral soil recovered this function by the end of the experiment but the mineral soil did not, suggesting greater resilience in the more diverse soil. Despite a large reduction in bacterial numbers and biomass in the copper-treated soils, only small differences in bacterial community diversity were observed by week 9 in the copper-polluted soils. The overall community structure was little altered and functionality, measured by mineralization rates, remained unchanged. This suggested a non-selective pressure and a degree of genetic and functional resistance to copper perturbation, despite a significant reduction in bacterial numbers and biomass. However, initial shifts in physiological profiles of both copper-polluted soils were observed but rapidly returned to those of the controls. This apparent functional recovery, accompanied by an increase in culturability, possibly reflects adaptation by the surviving communities to perturbation. The findings indicate that, although soil communities may be robust, relationships between diversity and stability need to be considered in developing a predictive understanding of response to environmental perturbations.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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