Linking microbial community composition with the corresponding ecosystem functions remains challenging. Because microbial communities can differ in their functional responses, this knowledge gap limits ecosystem assessment, design and management. To develop models that explicitly incorporate microbial populations and guide efforts to characterize their functional differences, we propose a novel approach derived from reliability engineering. This reliability modeling approach is illustrated here using a microbial ecology dataset from denitrifying bioreactors. Reliability modeling is well-suited for analyzing the stability of complex networks composed of many microbial populations. It could also be applied to evaluate the redundancy within a particular biochemical pathway in a microbial community. Reliability modeling allows characterization of the system's resilience and identification of failure-prone functional groups or biochemical steps, which can then be targeted for monitoring or enhancement. The reliability engineering approach provides a new perspective for unraveling the interactions between microbial community diversity, functional redundancy and ecosystem services, as well as practical tools for the design and management of engineered ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1809-1814
Number of pages6
JournalISME Journal
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 1 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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