Disturbance regimes predictably alter diversity in an ecologically complex bacterial system
Gibbons, Sean M.
Hutchison, Alan L.
Dinner, Aaron R.
Gilbert, Jack A.
Coleman, Maureen L.
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Diversity is often associated with the functional stability of ecological communities from microbes to macroorganisms. Understanding how diversity responds to environmental perturbations and the consequences of this relationship for ecosystem function are thus central challenges in microbial ecology. Unimodal diversity-disturbance relationships, in which maximum diversity occurs at intermediate levels of disturbance, have been predicted for ecosystems where life history tradeoffs separate organisms along a disturbance gradient. However, empirical support for such peaked relationships in macrosystems is mixed, and few studies have explored these relationships in microbial systems. Here we use complex microbial microcosm communities to systematically determine diversity-disturbance relationships over a range of disturbance regimes. We observed a reproducible switch between community states, which gave rise to transient diversity maxima when community states were forced to mix. Communities showed reduced compositional stability when diversity was highest. To further explore these dynamics, we formulated a simple model that reveals specific regimes under which diversity maxima are stable. Together, our results show how both unimodal and non-unimodal diversity-disturbance relationships can be observed as a system switches between two distinct microbial community states; this process likely occurs across a wide range of spatially and temporally heterogeneous microbial ecosystems.
© The Author(s), 2016. This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License. The definitive version was published in mBio 7 (2016): e01372-16, doi:10.1128/mBio.01372-16.
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