Interactions between hydrology and water chemistry shape bacterioplankton biogeography across boreal freshwater networks

ISME J. 2016 Jul;10(7):1755-66. doi: 10.1038/ismej.2015.226. Epub 2016 Feb 5.


Disentangling the mechanisms shaping bacterioplankton communities across freshwater ecosystems requires considering a hydrologic dimension that can influence both dispersal and local sorting, but how the environment and hydrology interact to shape the biogeography of freshwater bacterioplankton over large spatial scales remains unexplored. Using Illumina sequencing of the 16S ribosomal RNA gene, we investigate the large-scale spatial patterns of bacterioplankton across 386 freshwater systems from seven distinct regions in boreal Québec. We show that both hydrology and local water chemistry (mostly pH) interact to shape a sequential structuring of communities from highly diverse assemblages in headwater streams toward larger rivers and lakes dominated by fewer taxa. Increases in water residence time along the hydrologic continuum were accompanied by major losses of bacterial richness and by an increased differentiation of communities driven by local conditions (pH and other related variables). This suggests that hydrology and network position modulate the relative role of environmental sorting and mass effects on community assembly by determining both the time frame for bacterial growth and the composition of the immigrant pool. The apparent low dispersal limitation (that is, the lack of influence of geographic distance on the spatial patterns observed at the taxonomic resolution used) suggests that these boreal bacterioplankton communities derive from a shared bacterial pool that enters the networks through the smallest streams, largely dominated by mass effects, and that is increasingly subjected to local sorting of species during transit along the hydrologic continuum.

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / classification
  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Bacteria / growth & development*
  • Fresh Water / microbiology
  • Geography
  • Hydrology
  • Lakes / microbiology
  • Microbiota*
  • Plankton / classification
  • Plankton / genetics
  • Plankton / growth & development*
  • Population Dynamics
  • Quebec
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / genetics
  • Rivers / microbiology
  • Water / chemistry*
  • Water Microbiology*


  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S
  • Water