Faculty of Health, Engineering and Science
School of Natural Sciences / Centre for Ecosystem Management
In order to characterize how disturbances to microbial communities are propagated over temporal and spatial scales in aquatic environments, the dynamics of bacterial assemblages throughout a subtropical coastal embayment were investigated via SSU rRNA gene analyses over an 8-month period, which encompassed a large storm event. During non-perturbed conditions, sampling sites clustered into three groups based on their microbial community composition: an offshore oceanic group, a freshwater group, and a distinct and persistent coastal group. Significant differences in measured environmental parameters or in the bacterial community due to the storm event were found only within the coastal cluster of sampling sites, and only at 5 of 12 locations; three of these sites showed a significant response in both environmental and bacterial community characteristics. These responses were most pronounced at sites close to the shoreline. During the storm event, otherwise common bacterioplankton community members such as marine Synechococcus sp. and members of the SAR11 clade of Alphaproteobacteria decreased in relative abundance in the affected coastal zone, whereas several lineages of Gammaproteobacteria, Betaproteobacteria, and members of the Roseobacter clade of Alphaproteobacteria increased. The complex spatial patterns in both environmental conditions and microbial community structure related to freshwater runoff and wind convection during the perturbation event leads us to conclude that spatial heterogeneity was an important factor influencing both the dynamics and the resistance of the bacterioplankton communities to disturbances throughout this complex subtropical coastal system. This heterogeneity may play a role in facilitating a rapid rebound of regions harboring distinctly coastal bacterioplankton communities to their pre-disturbed taxonomic composition.