The power of species sorting: Local factors drive bacterial community composition over a wide range of spatial scales


There is a vivid debate on the relative importance of local and regional factors in shaping microbial communities, and on whether microbial organisms show a biogeographic signature in their distribution. Taking a metacommunity approach, spatial factors can become important either through dispersal limitation (compare large spatial scales) or mass effects (in case of strongly connected systems). We here analyze two datasets on bacterial communities [characterized by community fingerprinting through denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE)] in meso- to eutrophic shallow lakes to investigate the importance of spatial factors at three contrasting scales. Variation partitioning on datasets of both the bacterial communities of 11 shallow lakes that are part of a strongly interconnected and densely packed pond system textless1 km apart, three groups of shallow lakes ≈100 km apart, as well as these three groups of shallow lakes combined that span a large part of a North-South gradient in Europe (textgreater2,500 km) shows a strong impact of local environmental factors on bacterial community composition, with a marginal impact of spatial distance. Our results indicate that dispersal is not strongly limiting even at large spatial scales, and that mass effects do not have a strong impact on bacterial communities even in physically connected systems. We suggest that the fast population growth rates of bacteria facilitate efficient species sorting along environmental gradients in bacterial communities over a very broad range of dispersal rates.

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences