Dispersal and environmental selection are two of the most important factors that govern the distributions of microbial communities in nature. While dispersal rates are often inferred by measuring the degree to which community similarity diminishes with increasing geographic distance, determining the extent to which environmental selection impacts the distribution of microbes is more complex. To address this knowledge gap, we performed a large reciprocal transplant experiment to simulate the dispersal of US East Coast salt marsh Spartina alterniflora rhizome-associated microbial sediment communities across a latitudinal gradient and determined if any shifts in microbial community composition occurred as a result of the transplantation. Using bacterial 16S rRNA gene sequencing, we did not observe large-scale changes in community composition over a five-month S. alterniflora summer growing season and found that transplanted communities more closely resembled their origin sites than their destination sites. Furthermore, transplanted communities grouped predominantly by region, with two sites from the north and three sites to the south hosting distinct bacterial taxa, suggesting that sediment communities transplanted from north to south tended to retain their northern microbial distributions, and south to north maintained a southern distribution. A small number of potential indicator 16S rRNA gene sequences had distributions that were strongly correlated to both temperature and nitrogen, indicating that some organisms are more sensitive to environmental factors than others. These results provide new insight into the microbial biogeography of salt marsh sediments and suggest that established bacterial communities in frequently-inundated environments may be both highly resistant to invasion and resilient to some environmental shifts. However, the extent to which environmental selection impacts these communities is taxon specific and variable, highlighting the complex interplay between dispersal and environmental selection for microbial communities in nature.
Angermeyer, A., Crosby, S. C., & Huber, J. A. (2018). Salt marsh sediment bacterial communities maintain original population structure after transplantation across a latitudinal gradient. PeerJ, 6, e4735. https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.4735