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Microb Ecol. 2011 Apr;61(3):486-95. doi: 10.1007/s00248-010-9762-y. Epub 2010 Oct 23.

Balance of neutral and deterministic components in the dynamics of activated sludge floc assembly.

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Instituto de Investigaciones en Ingeniería Genética y Biología Molecular (INGEBI-CONICET), Buenos Aires, Argentina.


Understanding the processes that generate patterns of community structure is a central focus of ecological research. With that aim, we manipulated the structure of bacterial activated sludge to test the influence of the species richness and composition of bacterial communities on the dynamics of activated sludge floc assembly in lab-scale bioreactors. Bacterial community structure was analyzed using denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis of RT-PCR amplified 16S rRNA. Fingerprinting of four parallel reactors, started with the same source communities added in different proportions, converged to patterns that were more similar than expected by chance, suggesting a deterministic selection in floc development. Evidence for neutral dynamics was suggested by the dependence of the rate of replacement of species (bacterial taxa-time relationships) on the number of available species in the source community. Further indication of stochastic dynamics was obtained by the application of the Sloan neutral model for prokaryotes. The fitting of the observed data to the model predictions revealed that the importance of the stochastic component increased with the size of the reservoir of species richness from which the community is drawn. Taken together, the results illustrate how both neutral and deterministic dynamics operate simultaneously in the assembly of the bacterial floc and show that the balance of the two depends on the richness of the source community.

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