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Microb Ecol. 2006 Oct;52(3):378-88. Epub 2006 Jun 10.

Dissolved organic matter concentration and quality influences upon structure and function of freshwater microbial communities.

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Department of Biological Sciences, University of Notre Dame, PO Box 369, Notre Dame, IN 46556, USA.


Past studies have suggested that the concentration and quality of dissolved organic matter (DOM) may influence microbial community structure. In this study, we cross-inoculated the bacterial communities from two streams and a dystrophic lake that varied in DOM concentration and chemistry, to yield nine fully crossed treatments. We measured dissolved organic carbon (DOC) concentration and heterotrophic microbial community productivity throughout a 72-h incubation period, characterized DOM quality by molecular weight, and determined microbial community structure at the initial and final time points. Our results indicate that all bacterial inoculate sources had similar effects upon DOC concentration and DOM quality, regardless of the DOM source. These effects included an overall decrease in DOM M (W) and an initial period of DOC concentration variability between 0-24h. In contrast, microbial communities and their metabolic rates converged to profiles that reflected the DOM source upon which they were growing, regardless of the initial bacterial inoculation. The one exception was that the bacterial community from the low-concentration and low-molecular-weight DOM source exhibited a greater denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE) band richness when grown in its own DOM source than when grown in the highest concentration and molecular weight DOM source. This treatment also exhibited a higher rate of productivity. In general, our data suggest that microbial communities are selected by the DOM sources to which they are exposed. A microbial community will utilize the low-molecular-weight (or labile) DOM sources as well as parts of the high-molecular-weight (refractory) DOM, until a community develops that can efficiently metabolize the more abundant high-molecular-weight source. This experiment examines some of the complex interactions between microbial community selection and the combined factors of DOM quality and concentration. Our data suggest that the roles of aerobic aquatic heterotrophic bacteria in carbon cycling, as well as the importance of high-molecular-weight DOM as a carbon source, may be more complex than is conventionally recognized.

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