Factors influencing the biogeography of bacteria in fresh waters - a metacommunity approach

Abstract: One of ecology’s primary goals is to comprehend biodiversity and its patterns of distribution over space and time. Since microorganisms play a pivotal role in key ecological processes, the diversity of microbial communities may have important implications for the stability and functioning of Earth’s ecosystems. Thus, it is of utmost importance to develop a theoretical foundation but also a conceptual understanding for the mechanisms that generate and maintain microbial diversity. The aim of this thesis is to investigate to what extent local freshwater bacterioplankton diversity, i.e. richness and community composition, is structured by local environmental interactions and/or regional processes. The key objective is to identify ecological linkages between lake bacterioplankton and bacterial communities in connected streams and the surrounding terrestrial landscape, thereby applying a metacommunity approach. To do so, I studied several natural lake bacterioplankton assemblies within different regions of Sweden and assessed both local environmental properties and regional parameters (e.g. dispersal, landscape position). The genetic composition of freshwater bacterioplankton diversity was determined by means of terminal-restriction fragment length polymorphism or 454 pyrosequencing. From the review on the biogeography of bacterioplankton in inland waters it became clear that microbial diversity and its spatial distribution are governed by a complex interplay of both local and regional drivers. In one case, freshwater bacterioplankton communities were structured by local environmental conditions rather than by regional dispersal processes. These local environmental conditions seemed to be equally important in controlling both the total bacterioplankton community and its active fraction. In a study of bacterioplankton communities from five different regions, locally abundant aquatic bacteria were shown to be also regionally widespread, a pattern predicted by neutral theory. Yet, this degree of similarity decreased with increasing environmental heterogeneity. In another study, bacterioplankton richness was controlled mostly by nutrient content, indicating that productivity exerted influence on bacterioplankton richness. However, landscape position and productivity covaried, suggesting that the landscape dictates environmental properties, which then directly structure local bacterioplankton richness. Finally, a review synthesising results from empirical metacommunity approaches and comparing these to theory showed that yet a gap between empirics and theory exists. To conclude, local bacterioplankton diversity appeared to be mainly structured by local environmental properties. However, signatures of neutral processes driving local bacterioplankton community assembly were also recorded.