Disturbance and recovery of microbial community structure and function following Hurricane Frances

Anthony C. Yannarell, Timothy F. Steppe, Hans W. Paerl

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Disturbance and recovery influence microbial community structure and ecosystem functions in most natural environments. This study from a hypersaline Bahamian lagoon details the response of a benthic cyanobacterial mat to disturbance by Hurricane Frances, a category-4 storm. Clone libraries of cyanobacterial small subunit r-RNA genes and nitrogenase genes revealed significant shifts in cyanobacterial and diazotroph community composition following the hurricane. Post-hurricane clone libraries were dominated by sequences that had been rare in pre-hurricane communities. In spite of this dominance shift, re-colonizing mat communities performed nitrogen fixation and photosynthesis at rates within the normal range of variation measured in the mat at similar salinities. There was a tendency for nitrogen fixation rates from mats re-colonizing sites with hurricane-related sand deposition to be higher than those from mats re-colonizing sites without significant sand deposition. This suggests that the altered communities responded to a carbon: nitrogen imbalance that was particularly pronounced in areas subjected to disturbance by sand burial. The post-hurricane dominance of organisms that had been previously rare suggests that pre-hurricane diversity and functional redundancy contributed to the rapid recovery of ecosystem function in the post-disturbance environment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)576-583
Number of pages8
JournalEnvironmental Microbiology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2007
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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