We present a survey on the distribution and habitat range of Polynucleobacter necessarius ssp. asymbioticus (PnecC), a numerically and functionally important taxon in the plankton of freshwater systems. We systematically sampled stagnant freshwater habitats in a heterogeneous 2000 km(2) area, together with ecologically different habitats outside this area. In total, 137 lakes, ponds and puddles were investigated, which represent an enormous diversity of habitats differing, e.g. in depth (< 10 cm-171 m) and pH (3.9-8.5). PnecC bacteria were detected by cultivation-independent methods in all investigated habitats, and their presence was confirmed by cultivation of strains from selected habitats representing the whole studied ecological range. The determined relative abundance of the subspecies ranged from values close to the detection limit of FISH (0.2%) to 67% (average 14.5%), and the highest observed absolute abundance was 5.3 x 10(6) cells ml(-1). Statistical analyses revealed that the abundance of PnecC bacteria was partially controlled by factors linked to concentrations of humic substances, which support the hypothesis that these bacteria utilize photodegradation products of humic substances. Based on the revealed statistical relationships, an average relative abundance of this subspecies of 20% in global freshwater habitats was extrapolated. Our study provides important implications for the current debate on ubiquity and biogeography in microorganisms.
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