The subspecies Polynucleobacter necessarius asymbioticus (> 99% 16S rRNA similarity) has a cosmopolitan distribution and a ubiquitous occurrence in lentic freshwater habitats. We tested if the observed ubiquity of these free-living planktonic freshwater bacteria results from a euryoecious (generalist) adaptation of P. n. asymbioticus strains, or from ecological diversification within the subspecies. We developed a reverse line blot hybridization assay enabling the cultivation-independent detection of 13 groups within the subspecies in environmental samples. A set of 121 lentic freshwater habitats, spanning a broad variety of habitat types (e.g. pH levels ranging from 3.8 to 8.5) was investigated for the presence of these 13 P. n. asymbioticus groups. Statistical analyses of the reverse line blot hybridization detections revealed pronounced differences in habitat preferences of several of the groups. Their preferences differed regarding pH, conductivity, dissolved organic carbon and oxygen concentration of habitats. For some groups, differences in environmental preferences resulted even in complete niche separation between them. The revealed differences in habitat preferences suggest that the previously reported ubiquity of P. n. asymbioticus results from ecological diversification within the taxon and not from generalist adaptation of strains.
© 2011 Society for Applied Microbiology and Blackwell Publishing Ltd.