Short Communication

The ISME Journal (2016) 10, 2336–2340; doi:10.1038/ismej.2016.28; published online 4 March 2016

Phylogenetic organization of bacterial activity

Ember M Morrissey1,6, Rebecca L Mau1, Egbert Schwartz1,2, J Gregory Caporaso1,2,3, Paul Dijkstra1,2, Natasja van Gestel1, Benjamin J Koch1, Cindy M Liu3,4,5, Michaela Hayer1, Theresa A McHugh1,7, Jane C Marks1,2, Lance B Price4,5 and Bruce A Hungate1,2

  1. 1Center for Ecosystem Science and Society, Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, AZ, USA
  2. 2Department of Biological Sciences, Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, AZ, USA
  3. 3Center for Microbial Genetics and Genomics, Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, AZ, USA
  4. 4Center for Microbiomics and Human Health, Translational Genomics Research Institute, Flagstaff, AZ, USA
  5. 5Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, Milken Institute School of Public Health, George Washington University, Washington, DC, USA

Correspondence: EM Morrissey, Division of Plant and Soil Sciences, West Virginia University, Agricultural Sciences Building, PO Box 6108, Morgantown, WV 26505, USA. E-mail:

6Current address: Division of Plant and Soil Sciences, West Virginia University, Morgantown, WV 26505, USA.

7Current address: US Geological Survey, Southwest Biological Science Center, Moab, UT 84532, USA.

Received 2 November 2015; Revised 14 January 2016; Accepted 18 January 2016
Advance online publication 4 March 2016



Phylogeny is an ecologically meaningful way to classify plants and animals, as closely related taxa frequently have similar ecological characteristics, functional traits and effects on ecosystem processes. For bacteria, however, phylogeny has been argued to be an unreliable indicator of an organism’s ecology owing to evolutionary processes more common to microbes such as gene loss and lateral gene transfer, as well as convergent evolution. Here we use advanced stable isotope probing with 13C and 18O to show that evolutionary history has ecological significance for in situ bacterial activity. Phylogenetic organization in the activity of bacteria sets the stage for characterizing the functional attributes of bacterial taxonomic groups. Connecting identity with function in this way will allow scientists to begin building a mechanistic understanding of how bacterial community composition regulates critical ecosystem functions.