Biological treatment processes are "complex systems" where many different kinds of microbes grow and interact in a dynamic manner. Understanding the relationship between microbial diversity and bioreactor performance could facilitate the optimisation of bioreactor design and enable the solution of bioreactor-related problems. However, systematic studies of the effects of operating variables on microbial diversity and reactor performance are rare. In this study, we determined the effects of different operating conditions and system configurations on the performance of laboratory-scale activated sludge reactors and microbial diversity, based on experiments designed using the factorial design approach. We found that the overall system performance and the diversity of the microbial communities in the reactors were affected by changes in the operating parameters. However, the relationship between diversity and performance was sometimes counterintuitive, as increases in system performance were not always associated with increased community diversity. Reactor configuration and addition of soil had the biggest effects on reactor performance, while the effects of organic loading rates and feed composition were less marked. Of all these parameters, reactor configuration was the only one that had a consistent effect on reactor community diversity.
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