Mass effects meet species sorting: transformations of microbial assemblages in epiphreatic subsurface karst water pools

Jakob Pernthale
Franco Widmer

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We investigated the transformations of the microbial communities in epiphreatic karst cave pools with different flooding frequencies. Fingerprinting of 16S rRNA genes was combined with microscopic and sequence analysis to examine if source water would transport comparable microbial inocula into the pools at consecutive flood events, and to assess possible effects of residence time on the microbial assemblages during stagnant periods. Variability in the concentrations of dissolved organic carbon and conductivity indicated differences between floods and changes of pool water over time. High numbers of Betaproteobacteria affiliated with Methylophilaceae and Comamonadaceae were introduced into the pools during floodings. While the former persisted in the pools, the latter exhibited considerable microdiversification. These Betaproteobacteria might thus represent core microbial groups in karst water. A decrease in the estimated total diversity of the remaining bacterial taxa was apparent after a few weeks of residence: Some were favoured by stagnant conditions, whereas the majority was rapidly outcompeted. Thus, the microbial communities consisted of different components governed by complementary assembly mechanisms (dispersal versus environmental filtering) upon introduction into the pools. High overlap of temporary and persistent community members between samplings from two winters, moreover, reflected the seasonal recurrence of the studied microbial assemblages.