The fundamental role of bacteria in global biogeochemical cycles warrants a thorough understanding of the factors controlling bacterial community structure. In this study, the integrated effect of seasonal differences and spatial distribution on bacterial community structure and diversity were investigated at the regional scale. We conducted a comprehensive bacterial survey, with 451 samples of the Scotian Shelf sector of the Northwest Atlantic Ocean during spring and fall of 2014 and 2016, to analyze the effects of physicochemical gradients on bacterial community structure. Throughout the region, Pelagibacteraceae and Rhodobacteraceae were the most common in the free-living fraction, while Flavobacteriia and Deltaproteobacteria were more abundant in the particle-associated fraction. Overall, there was strong covariation of the microbial community diversity from the two size fractions. This relationship existed despite the statistically significant difference in community structure between the free-living and particle-associated size fractions. In both size fractions, distribution patterns of bacterial taxa, and species within taxa, displayed temporal and spatial preferences. Distinct bacterial assemblages specific to season and depth in the water column were identified. These distinct assemblages, consistent for both 2014 and 2016, suggested replicable patterns in microbial communities for spring and fall in this region. Over all sites, temperature and oxygen values were highly correlated with community similarity, and salinity and oxygen values were the most strongly positively- and negatively correlated with alpha diversity, respectively. However, the strengths of these correlations depended on the depth and season sampled. The bathymetry of the Scotian Shelf, the abrupt shelf break to the Scotian Slope and the major ocean currents dominating in the region led to the formation of distinct on-shelf and off-shelf bacterial communities both in spring and fall. The highest species richness was observed at the shelf break, where water masses from the two major currents meet. Our study establishes the baseline for assessing future changes in the bacterial community of the Scotian Shelf waters, a rapidly changing sector of the Atlantic Ocean.
Keywords: 16S rRNA; Northwest Atlantic; Scotian Shelf; bacterial diversity; biogeography; marine microbiology; microbial ecology; oceans and seas.