To test if the quality and concentration of dissolved nitrogen (N) species could be a selective force in shaping bacterioplankton community structure, competition for various N compounds among five heterotrophic marine bacteria (Pseudomonas strains B, B25, and AX; Bacillus strain A6; Erythrobacter strain F19) was examined. Two of the five strains (AX and B25) were capable of utilizing urea for growth. The five strains were inoculated into dilute (1/1,000 strength) ZoBell medium enriched with various N sources (free amino acids, casein, ammonium, nitrate, or urea). Regardless of the added N source, the communities were either dominated by strain B (at 50 microM N) or strain AX (at 250 microM N). Without any addition of N, strain F19 dominated. If F19 was not included in the community, strain B25 dominated. Despite these differences in community structure, consumption of the added N compounds was surprisingly similar and no advantages of urea for the urea-utilizing bacterium B25 were obvious. To examine if urea could be of selective advantage to the urea-degrading strains B25 and AX, communities with and without B25 were amended with urea N. As expected, strain B25 became dominant when present, but without this strain the non-urea-utilizing strain B outcompeted the urea-utilizing strain AX. Possibly, strain B benefited from N released during catabolism of urea by strain AX. Changes in community composition did not result in major changes in the nitrogen dynamics. The results indicate that dissolved N species can be a selective force in shaping microbial communities. Relative to nutrient generalists, nutrient specialists may either have competitive advantages or stimulate growth of other species by synergetic interactions. Results from the model communities suggest that there may be a large degree of unpredictability in the making of microbial communities, whereas major ecosystem functions such as N cycling appear relatively stable.
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