When, where and how does microbial community composition matter?

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Abstract

Our planet is experiencing rates of environmental change unprecedented in modern times, and an understanding of how microbes both mediate and respond to these shifts is an important research challenge (De Vries and Shade, 2013). Because of the temporal and spatial scales over which microbes function as well as their extreme diversity, dynamics in microbial structure and processes are typically examined at the community level. However, the factors that drive patterns in microbial structure and function, and the links between them, remain widely debated (Prosser et al., 2007). In this issue, such patterns in microbial communities are further documented for soils, lakes, streams and ocean provinces (Arnosti et al., 2012; Jones et al., 2012; King et al., 2012; Larouche et al., 2012). Additionally, the importance of spatial and temporal dynamics (Armitage et al., 2012; Arnosti et al., 2012; Jones et al., 2012; Larouche et al., 2012) and interactions with macrobiota (King et al., 2012) in driving these patterns is demonstrated. Yet, a central but unanswered question is: “does knowing who is there help us to better understand what they are doing?” Indeed, as shown here by Salles et al. (2012), links between structure and function can often be weak, both at the level of the individual and at the level of the community. Several papers in this special issue, “The Causes and Consequences of Microbial Community Structure,” use empirical or modeling approaches as well as literature reviews to enrich our mechanistic understanding of the controls over the relationship between community structure and ecosystem processes. Specifically, authors address the role of trait distributions and trade-offs, species-species interactions, evolutionary dynamics, community assembly processes and physical controls in affecting “who's there” and “what they are doing.”

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Nemergut, D., Shade, A., & Violle, C. (2014). When, where and how does microbial community composition matter? Frontiers in Microbiology, 5(SEP). https://doi.org/10.3389/fmicb.2014.00497

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