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Front Microbiol. 2013 May 1;4:68. doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2013.00068. eCollection 2013.

Microbial community assembly, theory and rare functions.

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Division of Biotechnology, Faculty of Science, Maejo University ChiangMai, Thailand.


Views of community assembly have traditionally been based on the contrasting perspectives of the deterministic niche paradigm and stochastic neutral models. This study sought to determine if we could use empirical interventions conceived from a niche and neutral perspective to change the diversity and evenness of the microbial community within a reactor treating wastewater and to see if there was any associated change in the removal of endocrine disrupting compounds (EDCs). The systematic removal of EDCs and micropollutants from biological treatment systems is a major challenge for environmental engineers. We manipulated pairs of bioreactors in an experiment in which "niche" (temporal variation in resource concentration and resource complexity) and "neutral" (community size and immigration) attributes were changed and the effect on the detectable diversity and the removal of steroidal estrogens was evaluated. The effects of manipulations on diversity suggested that both niche and neutral processes are important in community assembly. We found that temporal variation in environmental conditions increased diversity but resource complexity did not. Larger communities had greater diversity but attempting to increase immigration by adding soil had the opposite effect. The effects of the manipulations on EDC removal efficiency were complex. Decreases in diversity, which were associated with a decrease in evenness, were associated with an increase in EDC removal. A simple generalized neutral model (calibrated with parameters typical of wastewater treatment plants) showed that decreases in diversity should lead to the increase in abundance of some ostensibly taxa rare. We conclude that neither niche and neutral perspectives nor the effect of diversity on putative rare functions can be properly understood by naïve qualitative observations. Instead, the relative importance of the key microbial mechanisms must be determined and, ideally, expressed mathematically.


endocrine-disrupting chemicals; steroidal estrogens; theories of microbial community assembly; wastewater treatment

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