Relationships between bacterial community composition, functional trait composition and functioning are context dependent--but what is the context?

PLoS One. 2014 Nov 7;9(11):e112409. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0112409. eCollection 2014.


Bacterial communities are immensely diverse and drive many fundamental ecosystem processes. However, the role of bacterial community composition (BCC) for functioning is still unclear. Here we evaluate the relative importance of BCC (from 454-sequencing), functional traits (from Biolog Ecoplates) and environmental conditions for per cell biomass production (BPC; 3H-leucine incorporation) in six data sets of natural freshwater bacterial communities. BCC explained significant variation of BPC in all six data sets and most variation in four. BCC measures based on 16S rRNA (active bacteria) did not consistently explain more variation in BPC than measures based on the 16S rRNA-gene (total community), and adding phylogenetic information did not, in general, increase the explanatory power of BCC. In contrast to our hypothesis, the importance of BCC for BPC was not related to the anticipated dispersal rates in and out of communities. Functional traits, most notably the ability to use cyclic and aromatic compounds, as well as local environmental conditions, i.e. stoichiometric relationships of nutrients, explained some variation in all six data sets. In general there were weak associations between variation in BCC and variation in the functional traits contributing to productivity. This indicates that additional traits may be important for productivity as well. By comparing several data sets obtained in a similar way we conclude that no single measure of BCC was obviously better than another in explaining BPC. We identified some key functional traits for productivity, but although there was a coupling between BCC, functional traits and productivity, the strength of the coupling seems context dependent. However, the exact context is still unresolved.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / classification
  • Bacteria / genetics*
  • Bacteria / growth & development
  • Biomass
  • Ecosystem*
  • Environment
  • Fresh Water / microbiology*
  • Genetic Variation*
  • Phylogeny
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / genetics*
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA


  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S