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Stochastic processes govern invasion success in microbial communities when the invader is phylogenetically close to resident bacteria

The ISME Journalvolume 12pages27482756 (2018) | Download Citation


Despite recent efforts in identifying the determinants of invasion in microbial communities, experimental observations across different ecosystems are inconclusive. While relationships between resident community diversity and invasion success are often noted, community diversity says little about community assembly processes. Community assembly processes may provide a more inclusive framework to explain—and potentially prevent or facilitate—invasion. Here we let replicate nitrite-oxidizing bacterial guilds assemble under different conditions from a natural source community and study their compositional patterns to infer the relative importance of the assembly processes. Then, an invader strain from that same guild was introduced at one of three propagule pressures. We found no significant correlation between community diversity and invasion success. Instead, we observed that the effect of selection on invasion success was surpassed by the effect of drift, as inferred from the substantial influence of propagule pressure on invasion success. This dominance of drift can probably be generalized to other invasion cases with high phylogenetic similarity between invader and resident community members. In these situations, our results suggest that attempting to modulate the invasibility of a community by altering its diversity is futile because stochastic processes determine the invasion outcome. Increasing or reducing propagule pressure is then deemed the most efficient avenue to enhance or limit invasion success.

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This work was funded by the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions of the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme FP7/2007-2013/ (MERMAID ITN) under REA grant agreement n°607492. In addition, we would like to thank Professor Eva Spieck from the University of Hamburg for donating the Nitrotoga HW29 culture and Chiara Ilgrande from Ghent University for guidance on culturing NOBs.

Author contributions

MK, AD, and BFS designed the experiments. MK performed the experiments and carried out all molecular analyses; the data analysis was performed by MK supported by AD. All co-authors assisted in interpreting the results; MK initiated the manuscript writing, which was finalized with contributions from AD, H-JA and BFS.

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Author notes

    • Marta Kinnunen

    Present address: Novozymes A/S, Microbial Discovery, Krogshoejvej 36, Bagsvaerd, DK-2880, Denmark


  1. Department of Environmental Engineering, Technical University of Denmark, Bygningstorvet 115, 2800 Kgs, Lyngby, Denmark

    • Marta Kinnunen
    • , Arnaud Dechesne
    • , Hans-Jørgen Albrechtsen
    •  & Barth F. Smets


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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Correspondence to Barth F. Smets.

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