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Tracking Replicate Divergence in Microbial Community Composition and Function in Experimental Microcosms

Renee Johansen, Michaeline Albright, La Verne Gallegos-Graves, Deanna Lopez, Andreas Runde, Thomas Yoshida, John Dunbar
Microbial Ecology 2019 April 2
The study of microbial community functions necessitates replicating microbial communities. Variation in community development over time renders this an imperfect process. Thus, anticipating the likely degree of variation among replicate communities may aid in experimental design. We examined divergence in replicate community composition and function among 128 naturally assembled starting communities obtained from soils, each replicated three times, following a 30-day microcosm incubation period. Bacterial and fungal communities diverged in both composition and function among replicates, but remained much more similar to each other than to communities from different starting inocula. Variation in bacterial community composition among replicates was, however, correlated with variation in dissolved organic carbon production. A smaller-scale experiment testing nine starting communities showed that divergence was similar whether replicates were incubated on sterile or non-sterile pine litter, suggesting the impact of a pre-existing community on replicate divergence is minor. However, replicates in this experiment which were incubated for 114 days diverged more than those incubated for 30 days, suggesting experiments that run over long time periods will likely see greater variation among replicate community composition. These results suggest that while replicates diverge at a community level, such divergence is unlikely to severely impede the study of community function.


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