Species dynamics in natural bacterial communities over multiple rounds of propagation

Groenenboom, Anneloes E.; Heuvel, Joost van den; Zwaan, Bas; Smid, Eddy; Schoustra, Sijmen


Our experimental work illustrates how microbial ecosystems can be shaped by selective pressures over long-term ecological time scales. Natural microbial ecosystems generally consist of various co-existing species, where community composition describes the frequency at which species or types are present. Overall functionality of the system is achieved by interacting species. Upon short-term selection, for instance by transfer to a novel environment, community composition and functionality may change in a process referred to as species sorting. Various factors, such as initial community composition and selective pressures from the environment, may influence this change. Mabisi is a traditional fermented food from Zambia that naturally contains a bacterial community of around twenty unique bacterial types. We used six comparable but different natural bacterial Mabisi communities, each split into five identical replicates, for 16 propagation cycles in a novel, common laboratory environment. Composition of the bacterial communities changed upon propagation. The influence of four main factors on community composition, i.e. initial composition (history), impact of the environment (adaptation), changes due to interaction between species and random processes (chance) in species dynamics, was tested using maximum likelihood ratios. Initial community composition seemed to determine the change in community composition, followed by random processes. Interestingly, we observed convergence at the level of ecosystem functionality, which was measured as profiles of metabolic output. This suggests different combinations of species or types can achieve similar eco-system functionality.