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ISME J. 2013 Jan;7(1):210-20. doi: 10.1038/ismej.2012.93. Epub 2012 Aug 16.

Bacterial diversity, community structure and potential growth rates along an estuarine salinity gradient.

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School of Marine Science and Policy, University of Delaware, Lewes, DE, USA.


Very little is known about growth rates of individual bacterial taxa and how they respond to environmental flux. Here, we characterized bacterial community diversity, structure and the relative abundance of 16S rRNA and 16S rRNA genes (rDNA) using pyrosequencing along the salinity gradient in the Delaware Bay. Indices of diversity, evenness, structure and growth rates of the surface bacterial community significantly varied along the transect, reflecting active mixing between the freshwater and marine ends of the estuary. There was no positive correlation between relative abundances of 16S rRNA and rDNA for the entire bacterial community, suggesting that abundance of bacteria does not necessarily reflect potential growth rate or activity. However, for almost half of the individual taxa, 16S rRNA positively correlated with rDNA, suggesting that activity did follow abundance in these cases. The positive relationship between 16S rRNA and rDNA was less in the whole water community than for free-living taxa, indicating that the two communities differed in activity. The 16S rRNA:rDNA ratios of some typically marine taxa reflected differences in light, nutrient concentrations and other environmental factors along the estuarine gradient. The ratios of individual freshwater taxa declined as salinity increased, whereas the 16S rRNA:rDNA ratios of only some typical marine bacteria increased as salinity increased. These data suggest that physical and other bottom-up factors differentially affect growth rates, but not necessarily abundance of individual taxa in this highly variable environment.

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