Microbial ecology research requires sampling strategies that accurately represent the microbial community under study. These communities must typically be transported from the collection location to the laboratory and then stored until they can be processed. However, there is a lack of consensus on how best to preserve microbial communities during transport and storage. Here, we evaluated dimethyl sulfoxide, ethylenediamine tetraacetic acid, saturated salt (DESS) solution as a broadly applicable preservative for microbial ecology experiments. We stored fungus gardens grown by the ant Trachymyrmex septentrionalis in DESS, 15% glycerol, and phosphate buffered saline (PBS) to test their impact on the fungus garden microbial community. Variation in microbial community structure due to differences in preservative type was minimal when compared to variation between ant colonies. Additionally, DESS preserved the structure of a defined mock community more faithfully than either 15% glycerol or PBS. DESS is inexpensive, easy to transport, and effective in preserving microbial community structure. We therefore conclude that DESS is a valuable preservative for use in microbial ecology research.
Keywords: DESS; Fungus-growing ants; Microbial ecology; Microbiome; Preservative.