Genetic variance in the composition of two functional groups (diazotrophs and cyanobacteria) from a hypersaline microbial mat

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

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Examination of variation in ecological communities can lead to an understanding of the forces that structure communities, the consequences of change at the ecosystem level, and the relevant scales involved. This study details spatial and seasonal variability in the composition of nitrogen-fixing and cyanobacterial (i.e., oxygenic photosynthetic) functional groups of a benthic, hypersaline microbial mat from Salt Pond, San Salvador Island, Bahamas. This system shows extreme annual variability in the salinity of the overlying water and the extent of water coverage. Analysis of molecular variance and FST tests of genetic differentiation of nifH and cyanobacterial 16S rRNA gene clone libraries allowed for changes at multiple taxonomic levels (i.e., above, below, and at the species level) to inform the conclusions regarding these functional groups. Composition of the nitrogen-fixing community showed significant seasonal changes related to salinity, while cyanobacterial composition showed no consistent seasonal pattern. Both functional groups exhibited significant spatial variation, changing with depth in the mat and horizontally with distance from the shoreline. The patterns of change suggest that cyanobacterial composition was more insensitive to water stress, and consequently, cyanobacteria dominated the nitrogen-fixing community during dry months but gave way to a more diverse community of diazotrophs in wet months. This seasonal pattern may allow the mat community to respond quickly to water-freshening events after prolonged dry conditions (system recovery) and maintain ecosystem function in the face of disturbance during the wet season (system resilience).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1207-1217
Number of pages11
JournalApplied and environmental microbiology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2006
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Food Science
  • Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology
  • Ecology


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